How Jesus used Midrash.
Are you confused by some of Jesus’ sayings?
"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:5-7)
In the Jewish holy book, the Talmud, Rabbi Eleazor taught that anyone whose prayers were just routine or who considered praying itself as a bit of a bother, was not genuinely praying at all. As an example of the ostentatious manner of some religious Jews, The Talmud tells us of Rabbi Akiva who was so frantic in his bowings and prostrations that the whole process would take him from one corner of the synagogue to the opposite corner!
“… for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever. Amen” (Matthew 6:13)
The holy writings, the Mishnah, notes that the response to the High Priest pronouncing the Divine Name was “Blessed be the name of the glory of his kingdom for ever and ever”. Apparently this response was delivered in a whisper but later “they ordered that men should say it in a loud voice, because of the carping of the heretics”, a reference to those Jews who followed Jesus and were not afraid to admit as much during the synagogue service!
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”. (Matthew 6:16-18)
This disfiguring of their faces was done with ashes and the act of fasting is described in the Mishnah. First, you stop work, then no eating, drinking, sex, washing or bathing, though you could eat at night. At the time of Jesus, Jews were expected to fast on the second and fifth day of the week, at least.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness”. (Matthew 6:22-23).
Any Jew listening to this would know that this absolutely nothing to do with light and darkness. It was a popular saying at that time, that if someone had a “good eye” then they were generous, if they had a “bad eye” then they were mean spirited.
The Mishnah says, "The person with a good eye gave the 40th part of the first fruit of the heave offering for the maintaining of the priests, while the person with the evil eye gave only a 60th." It also says that "he that gives, but wants a monopoly on giving and does not want others to be able to give too is considered to have an evil eye."
Generosity is a good thing and a positive influence on your well-being, so that your body “will be full of light”. This makes sense of the next verse, which, otherwise, may seem a bit detached and ‘off the point’
“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
So Jesus is talking about how we use our personal finances, not our eyesight.