June 20, 2012 - Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

2 Kings 2:1, 6-14
Psalm 31:20-21, 24
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Sometimes people quote Jesus here and suggest that what he means is that our religious expression should be entirely private, done in the privacy of our bedrooms. I do not say this lightly, but clearly Jesus did not really mean that we should go into our own rooms to pray even though he says it. How am I so sure? Because that is such an anachronistic idea. None of the people whom Jesus was preaching to had their own room. Most of them shared a two room house. One room was for the cattle and the other room was for the family. And the whole house was no bigger than most of our bedrooms. To hear this statement and then apply it unthinkingly to 21st century American conditions does not lead to a proper understanding.

Indeed, the word Jesus uses does not even mean bedroom, which concept would have been unknown. The word is more like walk-in safe. The word refers to the room that a king would have in his castle to keep the valuables. Even most of us do not have one of those.

So what did Jesus mean, if he did not mean that we should literally go pray in the inner closet of our house? The common interpretation over the past 2000 years has said that he was referring to the inner closet of our hearts. It was not until modern buildings that anyone could have imagined that it would be taken literally.

If the inner closet was for keeping valuables away from thieves, then the inner closet of our hearts is where we keep what we most value. There is the right place to speak to God. Go right in among all the things that you hold most sacred, and speak to God there. If we find that this storeroom is not appropriate, if it is filled with worldly and ungodly things that we value, we should clean it out and fill it with the Holy Spirit. This is what prayer is really about, Jesus is saying. Not impressing people or seeming devoted to God. Prayer is going into the deepest place of our souls, clearing out the mess, and filling it with God. If we just try and do that, then God, who sees in secret, will give us the great gift of himself which we can treasure in that inner storeroom.