March 29, 2012: The Thirty-Second Day of Lent

March 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

“When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” ~ Matthew 6.2-4 ~

Christ continues with his instruction in the life of faith. Charity, prayer, and fasting would have all been considered as part of the proper way to observe the Hebrew faith. Christ addresses each in turn, referencing the place that each have in the Kingdom of Heaven.

As we saw in the previous verse, the point of righteous living should not be to parade one’s faith in front of others. Humility in action brings God more glory than vain show-offs, because the show-offs have been consumed with desire for their own glory instead of God’s. Our word “hypocrite” actually comes from a Greek word that referenced someone who performed in a theater; an actor!

Christ tells his audience that those who are only concerned with how others see them will receive “their reward in full;” that is, they will get what they want so very badly: to be seen by others, to be “intentionally caught in the act” of doing good things so that others will think highly of them. If that’s all they want, that’s all they’ll get, Christ says.

The danger with this kind of behavior lies in the fact that it is not true righteousness. True righteousness focuses on right living with God and each other. This kind of selfish attitude puts one’s selfish ambition before the needs of others and intends to steal glory that should go to God alone.

So what’s the answer? Christ doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and tell his audience to stop giving altogether. For sure, he intends that they continue to do so. As he has done before, he challenges the heart attitude by challenging the accepted way of living the ancient Law: instead of making a big show of generosity, give quietly and unobtrusively. This is true righteousness, for it places the needs of others above one’s own desire for attention and gives glory to God alone.

Christ speaks specifically to giving in these verses. How do we look for our own glory? Maybe we enjoy the fact that every eye looks our way when we roll down our window and hand some money to the homeless person on the street corner. Or perhaps we like the feeling that goes with conspicuously placing a big bill on top of the offering plate as it passes. Maybe we even get some sort of pleasure out of telling others how our vacation is going to have to be cut short this year because of all the children we’re sponsoring overseas. Or perhaps we’re on the other end of the spectrum and not giving at all.

Just as Christ spoke then, he speaks now: Give humbly, and the all-seeing God will take notice. It is far better to live in the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven that it is to be the self-appointed star of one’s own traveling circus.

Lord Christ, please help me to live this teaching. Just like anyone else, I like having my ego inflated; however, this is not your way. Remind me to give at appropriate times, in appropriate ways, so that you receive all the glory. Amen. 

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