1 Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing 4 so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.
A major portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount dealt with hypocrisy, as real in his day as it is in ours. He pointed to certain activities as examples of how hypocrisy can spoil our service to God, even in actions that may be good in themselves. In today’s reading, Jesus pointed out that giving can express generosity and gratitude, or it can be a something we do solely for the selfish purpose of making us look better to other people.
Lord Jesus, teach me how to do my giving, not for my ego’s sake, but for the sake of those who need what I can give. Let your self-giving generosity shape my life. Amen.
* John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002, p. 158ff.
** Ibid., p. 168.
How are Pharisees like airlines?
Many airlines have a peculiar performance metric. You often see airlines talk about how many on-time departures they have. Well, in most cases, an on-time departure is just when they close the door of airplane, not when they take off. If you’ve ever been stuck on an airplane that won’t leave the gate, you’ve been a victim of this off-base performance metric. In some cases, passengers are kept on the plane for over an hour before the plane takes off, unable to do anything or get off the plane. This is, ironically, the exact opposite of a good customer experience–the thing the metric tries to measure.
The Pharisees were guilty of the on-time departure fallacy most of the times they appear in the Scriptures. They had focused on outward holiness so intently that they often excluded goodness. They had completely missed the point of goodness and godliness.
This is not a unique problem. We’re all guilty of this at some points in our life. In fact, it often hits a little closer to home than we would like.
Jesus taught that giving in order to receive other people's praise is something like trumpeting an on-time departure record. The spiritual point of giving, of generosity, gets completely lost if all of our giving is done with an eye to selfishly collecting positive comments from others, and even awards. And only we (and God) can know what's inside our heart as we give. People may indeed at times thank and even honor us for giving generously and unselfishly. But if we let ourselves get hooked on the praise, then we're likely to stop giving because there's a need, and instead only give when there's recognition to be had. And in the end, that kind of faux generosity hurts us, no matter how much it impresses others.
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