Matthew 6:1-4

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 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. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.“ Matthew 6:1-4

Giving “alms” refers to whatever we give to alleviate the suffering of the poor. We give expecting nothing in return. From Deuteronomy 15:11, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’” From Proverbs 14:31, “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.”

If you live in a city like Houston, there isn’t a day that passes by that you don’t pass by a beggar on the side of the street. Whenever it happens, you feel that twinge in your stomach. Maybe it is a moment of pity that wants to become compassion. Maybe it is a little shot of self-righteous indignation, “Why doesn’t he just get a job?” Maybe you hand a dollar or a few dollars through your car window, wondering what they will really do with the money.

No matter how you respond, seeing the poor from a distance always reminds you of what you have and what others don’t. Or maybe you take the risk of getting a little closer – learning names of the regulars you see, inviting someone to join you for a meal, listening to their story – and then you realize that their situation is far more complicated, and much more deeply rooted in their history, their genes, their illnesses, than you might have thought.

And you realize that Jesus was right, “You will always have the poor with you.”

Almsgiving was always a core practice in Judaism. Desert hospitality mixed with the inevitable results of deep and abiding poverty to become the only safety net there was for people who had nowhere else to turn. Yet humans naturally asked the self-serving question, “So what do I get out of this?” The response became two sided – God will show me mercy because I showed mercy to the poor, and people will recognize that I’m a good person because of the good that I do to others. (And, of course, the dark side – all of this will cover up my shady business practices or whatever else that I feel guilty about.)

Notice that Jesus isn’t opposed to giving to help the poor. He encourages it. He once told a rich young man to sell everything he owned, give the money to the poor, and then to come and follow him. What Jesus does do is stick a knife in the self-serving aspects of our gifts to the poor.

No, such giving does not earn us merit badges with God. No, we don’t need to trumpet our generosity to purchase public good will. And no, our gifts to the poor do not cancel out the bad stuff we have done along the way to get what we have. Our gifts simply alleviate hunger for a moment, or put shoes on feet, or clothes on bodies, or provide for basic needs. In the moment, that is enough. In the long run, we do what we can to provide opportunities for people to fish on their own.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, whether showy pride or sneaky false pride, there is something in us that wants to receive credit for whatever good we do. You know that about us, Lord, you see it in us. Far too often, we are blind to ourselves. We don’t even realize what we’re doing. We pray today for people living on the edge, people suffering from hunger, homelessness, mental illness, addictions, or unforeseen tragedy and loss. Inspire those who have to share with those who don’t. And guide those who are in positions of power to place the highest priority toward those with the least in life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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2 Responses to “Matthew 6:1-4”

  1. David Armstrong Says:

    I like the way you interpret this scripture. WWJD?

  2. Carolee Groux Says:

    “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” ― C.S. Lewis
    We should do what is right in God’s sight, and not “do good” for the purpose of flaunting our good works in front of others. Our good deeds should be done because we have compassion for others and want to glorify the Lord.
    We pray that we not to be boastful or self righteous, but humble servants.

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