This morning I pondered Yeshua's words recorded in the beginning of the Brit Hadasha. He was speaking about religion and religious activities when he said, "when you fast... when you pray... when you give charity..." And he was speaking to a crowd at the time. (This is recorded in Matthew chapter 6). He didn't say, "This is for the gents. Ladies, I'll get to you later." He didn't say, "This is for those of you who work in the religious centres like the Temple." He said it to everyone. His words were meant for everyone. For those times, and for these times. He meant those words for me and for you.
The context of those phrases is Yeshua's teachings about observable religious activity. He started that section with "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven." Religious activity, here called 'practicing your righteousness', is acceptable of course, if done in the right spirit, with right intent. Here Yeshua is cautioning people that the one about whom one should be concerned is the Lord above, and not to worry about who sees and who else doesn't see what we are doing. Some religion will be observed by others; that's the nature of the beast. But if our goal is to be noticed by them, well, Yeshua says you have your reward in full. That is, their noticing your works is all you will ever 'get' from your deeds. God won't necessarily notice; He won't guarantee that angels will notice. Only those in front of whom you are showing off will notice. And they are not worth the effort.
Yeshua assumes you will fast. He assumes there will be a time when you will pray and when you will give charity/ alms. Those are right to do and right to perform. As long as you perform these things to be making God smile. If you want to be noticed by people... well... that's a waste.
I had a Jewish man stop by the bookshop the other day with deep concern for me to lay tefillin. That is, he wanted me to strap the leather phylacteries on my arm and around my head. We discussed many things, and this was top of his list. I balked at doing so, and his young offsider said, "it will only take 60 seconds. On. Off. Just like that." And I thought, this is exactly NOT what Yeshua wants and what he warned about. Knocking religious duties off a list, one 60-second at a time... not good. I thought of those Catholics who told me about saying four 'hail Mary's" and saying three "our father's" to satisfy a demanding priest. Their priest offered them a quickie 'salvation' of sorts, performing religious duties to make up for sinful activity.
The Jewish concept of kavanah is what Yeshua intended. Deep heartfelt compliance with regulations, real attitude checking to ensure that our performance is genuine, to love the Lord, to obey Him, sure, and to do so in the right spirit.
Isaiah the prophet regularly spoke to the failings of the Jewish people in his prophecy. His book begins with such almost hostile remarks. "What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” says the LORD. "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts?
Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies — I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.
I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them.
So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you, yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. (Isaiah 1.11-15)
God, who ordained these appointed times and mechanics, says He will despise them. Why? Because they are performed by duty-compliant people, and not by those with a real heart for God.
When you do this or that... do it unto the Lord. He will be glad for time with you. And you will be doubly glad.