15 February 2019Matthew 6:1-4
'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.' (v. 2)
Psalm: Psalm 74:1-12
Jesus moves from challenging character and values, in light of Old Testament regulations, to challenging his hearers on their actions. Up until now, Jesus has been making sure that his audience were getting their hearts in order; not because the law said so, but because it is God’s intention for the gracious ordering of society. In this section of Jesus’ teaching, he begins to challenge false piety and pretentiousness.
Inside the synagogue, public donations would be announced with a trumpet call, similar to a cattle auction today. Jesus sees such ostentatious behaviour as unnecessary. ‘Hypocrite’ in this context means pretentious or theatrical. Such behaviour is vacuous and unappealing.
Jesus says that if giving is offered because of what other people will think about it, then the reward has already been received. Public adulation should not be sought out, for fear of losing out on a greater kingdom reward.
Religion should not be practised for personal gain or public recognition. In contrast to the prosperity teaching of some contemporary churches, Jesus-following requires simplicity and secrecy.
Instead of impressing other people and trying to gain God’s favour in gaudy expressions of over-zealous religiosity, Jesus challenges the hearers to be more self-aware. The metaphor of not telling the left hand what your right hand is doing is a playfully grotesque image. In many cultures, the left hand is unclean.
Jesus is encouraging and commending generosity, but a generosity which stems from the heart being in the right place and in a right relationship with God. It is for God to judge the authenticity and integrity of a contribution, not personal ego or community coercion.
- What examples of ostentatious religion have you experienced or participated in?
- How can you be generous today?
- Watch the film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and reflect on its impact on you in light of this Bible passage.