Jesus said: ‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Jesus’ teaching on almsgiving, praying and fasting presents us with further challenges from his teachings in The Sermon on the Mount.
People like recognition for doing good. People like to talk of their generosity, even when they are not at all generous. People like to talk of their strength of will and character, even when they have little or none. Basically, most human beings crave the recognition of those around them, they like others to know that they are good people, even when they display few characteristics of goodness.
Today’s reading, like the others we encounter during this week, is really about our relationship with God. It is also a challenge for us to set aside our ‘puffed up’ ideas about ourselves and reflect upon the more humble way in which God wants us to live our lives. We are being urged to set aside our need for the honour of our friends and neighbours, and focus on developing a closer relationship with God.
It is so easy to deceive those with whom we live out our daily lives. It is not possible to deceive the God who created us, who redeemed us, who loves us with a love that is way beyond our human understanding.
God calls us to set ourselves aside, out of the limelight, and into the deepest possible relationship with him.
We are being called to reflect on the generosity of God’s love. The love of a God who does not require worldly pomp and display, but rather the intimacy of a personal relationship. The love of a God who gave not a pittance but everything for the good of the totality of humanity.
How do we face up to today’s challenge?