Jesus said to his disciples, «Be careful not to make a show of your righteousness before people. If you do so, you do not gain anything from your Father in heaven. When you give something to the poor, do not have it trumpeted before you, as do those who want to be seen in the synagogues and in the streets in order to be praised by the people. I assure you, they have been already paid in full. If you give something to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift remains really secret. Your Father who sees what is kept secret, will reward you.
»When you pray, do not be like those who want to be seen. They love to stand and pray in the synagogues or on street corners to be seen by everyone. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is with you in secret; and your Father who sees what is kept secret will reward you.
»When you fast, do not put on a miserable face as do the hypocrites. They put on a gloomy face, so people can see they are fasting. I tell you this: they have been paid in full already. When you fast, wash your face and make yourself look cheerful, because you are not fasting for appearance or for people, but for your Father who sees beyond appearances. And your Father, who sees what is kept secret will reward you».
It’s a normal expectation that we learn to behave properly in front of others. It is a fair play to demand that we be polite and gentle in our approach. The society does expect certain kind of behavioural approach in human relationship. And, we can keep adding to the list of expectations, and all that are judged politically correct and must according to the situations and surroundings where we are placed. Though society would agree and expect commonly accepted behaviour pattern, Jesus reminds us something more important to every human behaviour.
Yesterday, I have said that it is important that we learn to act and avoid reacting. Today Jesus is orienting us to act properly and helps us to understand the essential of all human acts. The question is what is ‘presented’ and what is ‘being’. The heart of today’s teaching is the great gap between the appearance and the essential of the being.
The teaching is not the question of reward, or the way to pray and fast, as it is presented to us. We can’t be too naive to reduce this rich teaching to mere few simple acts. It is the question of our identity and meaning of our existence. Many of us wish to be charitable like Mother Theresa, or to have a very deep faith like an evangelist or of apostles, but what is demanded by God is that we remain what we are. Many of like to be a cat while essentially being a tiger or like to be a tiger while remaining essentially cat. This like of approach is a herculean task and merely impossible to achieve. Jesus is asking us to be what we are and it is practical, easily achievable and the fruit will be a bliss filled life.
Daily Quote from the early church fathers:
Pray with the angels, by John Chrysostom, 547-407 A.D.
"When you pray, it is as if you were entering into a palace - not a palace on earth, but far more awesome, a palace in heaven. When you enter there, you do so with complete attentiveness and fitting respect. For in the houses of kings all turmoil is set aside, and silence reigns. Yet here you are being joined by choirs of angels. You are in communion with archangels and singing with the seraphim, who sing with great awe their spiritual hymns and sacred songs to God, the Lord of all. So when you are praying, mingle with these voices, patterning yourself according to their mystical order. It is not to human beings that you are praying but to God, who is present everywhere, who hears even before you speak and who knows already the secrets of the heart. If you pray to this One, you shall receive a great reward. 'For your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly.' He did not merely say he would give it to you but reward you, as if he himself had made a pledge to you and so honored you with a great honor. Because God himself is hidden, your prayer should be hidden." (excerpt from THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 19.3)
«Be careful not to make a show of your righteousness before people»
Fr. Antoni CAROL i Hostench
(Sant Cugat del Vallès, Barcelona, Spain)
Today, Jesus invites us to act always for the glory of God, to please the Father, as this is why we have been created for. This is how the Catechism of the Church confirms it: «God created everything for man, but man in turn was created to serve and love and to offer all creation back to him». This is the meaning of our life and our honour: to be liked by the Father, to please God. This is the example Christ left with us. If only the Father could give for each one of us the same testimony as He gave for his Son in the moment of his baptism: «This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased» (Mt 3:17).
Dishonesty of intention would be especially grave and ridiculous if happening in actions such as prayer, fasting or alms, as these are pious and charitable deeds, that is, deeds that —per se— are due to the virtue of religion or deeds we carry out for the love of God.
Therefore, «be careful not to make a show of your righteousness before people. If you do so, you do not gain anything from your Father in heaven» (Mt 6:1). How could we please God if, to start with, we are trying to be seen in order to be praised —first of all— by others? It is not that we have to hide from our fellow men so that they will not see us, but it is rather a question, in the first place, of directly addressing our good deeds to God. It does not matter, nor is it bad others may see us: on the contrary, we may give them example with the coherent testimony of our deeds.
But what it does matter —and a lot!— is that we can see God behind our deeds. We must, therefore, carefully examine our true intentions in whatever we are doing, and see that we are not seeking our own interest, if we are really trying to serve the Lord» (St. Gregory the Great).