Beware of practicing 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. (Matthew 6:1-4)
“Beware,” says Jesus, of “practicing your piety before others to be seen by them.” Let your almsgiving “be done in secret.” There is no heavenly reward for sharing your wealth with others when you do it in a way that’s meant to draw attention to yourself.
What is Jesus getting at? Is it simply that showing off is in bad taste? Or that true piety and true charity are their own reward? I think there’s more at stake here. Jesus is saying something about how we are called to live together in God’s new kingdom.
Giving can be surprisingly complicated. Givers have power, since they have something of value to give, and they may have expectations about how gifts are to be used. Recipients may feel an uncomfortable obligation that can be discharged only by giving something of equal value in return, or by showing deference and respect for the giver. Thus almsgiving (and piety as well) can be weaponized and used to reinforce who’s up and who’s down, who has power and who does not.
Don’t go down that road, says Jesus. This is not how things work in the kingdom of God. Give your alms in secret. Don’t even make a show for yourself. Just send your gifts on their way to do the work of caring for all, so that all may flourish equally and the dignity of each child of God, have and have-not, is treasured and sustained.
Prayer: Lord of all, help me to be generous and selfless as I serve you and the people of your kingdom. Amen.