No Grace in Men’s Praise

Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18
2 Cor 9: 6-11 / Psa 112

. . . and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
(Matthew 6:4,6,18)

Good deeds that seek a ton of praise
Are only worth an ounce of grace.
Kind acts performed in secrecy
Live on for all eternity.

Jesus said, “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; for then you will have no reward from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, to win the praise of men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, do not pray like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at street corners, to be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-6,16-18)

Reflection

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus mentions the word “secret” six times. Almsgiving, prayer and fasting: three activities that should be performed in secret if done for the purpose of self-sanctification. Otherwise, it is self-glorification, without any hope for eternal reward.

Our Lord Jesus wanted to emphasize that good deeds done for the praise of men never gained any spiritual benefits. This is the pitfall of the hypocrites whose deeds are motivated by a hidden desire for the praise of men. On the contrary, good deeds performed by humble men do not draw attention to themselves, but to God. As Jesus said in the earlier chapter of Matthew, “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds, and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt.5:16).

Giving alms, fasting, and abstaining from pleasure are effective ways of atoning for sins, but only if done in secrecy, or for God’s glory. See how our Lord condemned the false piety of the religious authorities of that time: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Mt. 23:27-28).

He who does not seek the adulation of men is happy and contented in silently doing God’s will for him, knowing that in the end he will receive his reward when he hears the Father tell him, “Well done, good and faithful servant, come and enjoy the fruits of your labor in My kingdom.”

LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit and when I stand; You understand my thoughts from far away. You observe my travels and my rest; You are aware of all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, LORD. (Psa 139:1-4) Grant that everything I think, say and do are for Your eyes alone. Amen.

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