True Acts of Piety

Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
2 Kgs 2: 1,6-14 / Ps 31: 20, 21, 24

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 6:1)

Good deeds done in ostentation
Are soon exposed as hypocrisy;
God’s love comes as revelation
In acts performed in secrecy

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. 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 gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. 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 others 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

Almsgiving, prayers and fasting. These were the acts of piety that devout Jews practiced according to their tradition, and which are still relevant in the present age, even though they are hardly practiced by most Christians today. Almsgiving, or works of charity are the most explicit expressions of love towards our neighbors, especially the “little children” of God (the needy). Prayers draw us closer to God, keep us safe and hopeful, and are a means of interceding for the sake of others in need. Fasting is a healthy dietary practice of going hungry for a certain period of time as a form of sacrifice, and to be one with those “who hunger and thirst”, and thus be set apart from the excesses of this world. All of these acts of piety would be meaningless and false if done for others to see and admire.

Jesus knew only too well the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, whom He obviously was referring to here in His teaching about practicing false piety. Later He would condemn them: “Woe to you, Pharisees! You love the seats of honor in synagogues and greetings in marketplaces” (Lk.11:43). Obviously, they had this deep-seated obsession for the praise of men.

Only men who have grown in wisdom through God’s grace do not seek the praise of others. Knowing that their good deeds are pleasing in the eyes of God is enough for them. The good that they do are the consequence of their gratitude to Divine Providence because they have already received their reward. On the other hand, those who seek human praise will become addicted to such adulation because they are feeding the voracious appetites of vanity and pride. They will never be satisfied, and will always be under the stress of craving for more attention and recognition to sustain their hungry egos. The humble man is content to do his best and nothing more, because he knows God will do the rest. He who does not seek the praises of men is happy and contented in silently doing God’s will, 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 God, as You have given us the precious things in this life, and even humbled Yourself on the cross that we may be saved, so may we also humbly share with others. Amen.

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