1 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. 2 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. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. — Matthew 6:1-4
The Kingdom Jesus envisions has no room for stuffy self-righteousness and congratulatory self promotion. We shouldn’t notify the press when we reach out in compassion; to do so is to receive one’s spoils in the flesh. Jesus might as well have said, “Let your light shine before men, but don’t go around patting yourself on the back for it.” Jesus seems to understand the intrinsic pull back from loudmouth proclamations of our own goodness. I’ve found that we do this almost effortlessly when it comes to mission work. I’ve been guilty of it myself, bragging about all the foreign mission points our church sponsors, even down to the exact dollar amount that we spend on expanding the Kingdom’s borders abroad. This work is all well and good, but it’s easy to get so caught up in the work and the (tiny) role we play and wholly neglect God as sustainer and energy-provider and vision-setter at large. As a result, we should resist efforts to market or package the Kingdom in a way that makes much of ourselves.
Compassion for the poor is always near to the heart of God, perhaps for this same reason. The poor have no basis from which to trumpet their spiritual exploits. Poverty is rich in humility. And humility, as we’ve seen, is the first step to entry in the Kingdom of Jesus. In line with the social justice thread of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus commissions a campaign of compassion where resources are shared with little fanfare. And why should this garner much attention? Isn’t this the kind of thing we all should be doing? Twice Jesus says When you give, not “If you give.” True discipleship sees no choice here, only command and example. And if we all lived according to this word, would it really be “stop the presses” news? Jesus seems to be stressing that this should be an everyday, ho-hum experience. “Another day of Jesus’ followers doing good things in his name,” the headline might read.
And yet, mustard seed demonstrations of faith become moments rife with eternal import in the economy of Jesus.
As always, Jesus gives what seems to be ordinary counsel for an otherworldly Kingdom.