Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)
For the last few days, we have reviewed sections of The Sermon on the Mount and hopefully reflected on how those words should affect our lives. In each case, this introspection should have brought us to the baseline of assessing to what degree faith shapes our lives and if it does then reviewing our actions and thoughts in terms of their fidelity to the concept of being a follower of Christ.
Today is no different. Jesus is speaking to His disciples and discusses four activities of the Christian life, righteous living, giving, prayer and fasting. I think we can all agree that these are things that we should do on a consistent basis. However, is it possible to do these activities in such a way that would make them unpleasing to the father? Jesus would answer, YES!
More than the activity itself, Jesus is highlighting the motivation behind our actions. It is not enough just to do the right thing; we have to do the right things for the right reasons. As humans we are naturally prideful people. It is so easy to do things to be seen by others or to show how holy we are. On the surface we would probably never admit that we do this.
As people who are saved by the grace of God, our motivation for everything we do should be one of gratitude. We are spiritual for God not people. We serve to please God not to get recognition. We can bluff a human audience and people will think we are genuine. They watch us give, pray, serve and they say “Wow, here is a committed Christian!” But if we are bluffing, God is not fooled. God can see right through our fake modesty and generosity, through our spiritual showiness. What God desires is honesty, integrity, heart-felt commitment. God desires generosity, conversation, and spiritual practices that flow from our deep commitment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
What Jesus teaches in today’s Gospel lesson is that if we worry about how other people see us, then the greatest reward we can ever hope to receive is their admiration. But if we focus, instead, on how God sees us; if we base our sense of self on this One who is less interested, frankly, in the actions we take, and more interested in the character of our hearts; if that is most important to us, then the reward we receive will be a living and growing relationship with this One, who knows the secret thoughts of our hearts, but who, at the same time, loves us enough even to die for us.
The key to this passage, really, is Jesus’ final advice for us in today’s Bible passage: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We try to live, pray and act as a follower of Christ because the greatest, most enduring treasure we will ever be given is a relationship with this God who knows us, who loves us, who forgives us, and who has given us promises that will outlast even our own deaths.
Prayer of The Day
“Lord Jesus, give me a lively faith, a firm hope, a fervent charity, and a great love for you. Take from me away from being lukewarm when I am meditating on your word, and away from dullness in prayer. Give me fervor and delight in thinking of you and your grace. Fill my heart with compassion for others, especially those in need, that I may respond with generosity.”
The Lord rewards those who seek him with humble and repentant hearts. He renews us each day and he gives us new hearts of love and compassion so that we may serve him and our neighbor with glad and generous hearts. Do you want to grow in your love for God and for your neighbor? Seek him expectantly in prayer, with fasting, and in generous giving to those in need.