A reading from the gospel according to Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18:
Jesus said to his disciples:
1 “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
2 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.
3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
4 so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
5 “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.
6 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.
16 “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.
17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,
18 so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
Reflection: Giving Alms, Praying and Fasting
In the age of social media, people love to post photos of them for the whole wide world to see. These photos include their charitable activities. Moreover, they compete with each other on who gets the most “likes” or the most favorable reactions. Most politicians and celebrities are notorious for being showy about their activities including alms-giving and praying.
Well those who give alms with journalists or cameras in tow have two ready-made defenses. First, they say they do it for transparency purposes especially if the goods they give are donated. As they say, if you don’t take a photo and post it, it did not happen. Second, they call it an example for others to follow.
In the gospel reading above, Jesus warns us three times that those who give alms, pray or fast publicly will not be rewarded because the accolade they receive from the public is already enough reward for them. He urges us instead to do it in secret and our Father in heaven will reward us.
What we need to check is our motivation. If we give alms or pray just to let the public know about it and thereby boost our ego, then we fall under the warning of Jesus. However, if we have no other motive except to give glory to God, then any earthly award we receive is just an icing on the cake. Thus, any praise we get from people for doing good should always be offered in praise and thanksgiving to our heavenly Father and it should never inflate our ego.
A devout follower of Jesus is supposed to engage in the regular activities of praying, fasting and almsgiving. These are spiritual obligations that we do in order to deepen our relationship with God and give Him all the glory that is due Him. We pray and fast in order to seek the attention of God, not public adulation. We give alms to the poor because we are taught to be compassionate, not to gain the praise of men. When we do these activities with the proper motivation, then God will surely reward us not only in heaven but also in the present life. This is the kind of piety that is required of Jesus’ disciples.
Dear Jesus, thank you for teaching us how to pray and fast properly. Thank you too for blessing us and giving us the opportunity to be a blessing to others especially to those who have less in life. May we give glory to God in all that we say and do. Amen.
Wise words. Thank you!