“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 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. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
We’re going to pick up the pace (a little) for the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, as some broader thematic topics are being addressed now. In study Bibles, the passage above is often broken into three headings: “Giving to the Needy,” “Prayer,” and “Fasting.” And those are good headings, but I want to focus on the broader message here, which is how God knows our secret hearts.
Having a private relationship with God means that we have one that is more real. If the Pharisees were around today, they might be part some of the worst of the Selfie generation: posing outside the synagogue with ashes on their head, or a shot of them ladling something onto a plate at the soup kitchen from an up-high angle while the people in the background are serving people three times as fast. In modern terms, they’re just there for the photo op. Any accolades they receive are their just reward, and nothing deeper is going to come from it.
This doesn’t mean we can’t share about our Faith, it just means don’t be an ass about it. If you’re just out there virtue signalling, you have some spiritual growing up to do. The “likes and comments” test, if you will, is actually a pretty good one. Are you just doing this for the attention, to belittle someone, or make yourself look better? Then keep it to yourself. Are you doing this because you genuinely want to share something you think might make a difference? Are you raising awareness for a worthy cause? Do you want to share your joy over God’s creation? Go for it.
God knows our intentions, and if our intentions are good, then our actions will be also. This is why it is so important to keep coming back to love. Are our actions coming from a place of love? It sounds so simple, but it’s really very divisive. In fact, I think this may be my biggest beef with much of Conservative Christianity. They say that their beliefs, their actions, come from a love of Jesus, and a want to uphold his teachings. But Jesus taught us, above all, to love our neighbors, love our enemies. So if we love Jesus, then we should be focused on that, right? And loving someone does not included forced conversion therapy, denying services to someone who isn’t the right religion or sexual orientation, or a paranoid guarding of this country’s borders. Loving means making sure everyone has enough to eat, and a safe place to live, access to care, the ability to work and to love and to build a family unmolested, regardless of how different they are from us. Actions creating that kind of world speak to loving intentions. If we build our walls, deny our brothers and sisters their rights because they are “other,” we will get accolades from like-minded (small-minded) people. And that is all that we’ll deserve. But, if we help lift up everyone, even if it means working quietly and in small ways that only God may see, then we will be rewarded by God.