Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, 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 almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
This is the perfect reading to begin the season of Lent as it teaches us about almsgiving, prayer and fasting. These three things are typically practiced by Christians worldwide during this time. However, the scriptures warn us to not do these things to merely show off for others. They are not to be used as a way for us to bring attention and glory to ourselves. Rather, we are instructed to do them privately and with a sincere heart to please our God.
We probably all know people who are hypocrites. Perhaps we have been guilty of being that way ourselves at one time or another. For instance, calling attention to ones (one’s) self by announcing what is personally being sacrificed for Lent, or making a donation to the Church or to charity expecting some form of public recognition. That is not what I recognize as the message of Christ in this reading. I understand
the message of these words to be that Christ wants us to act humbly as we do these things to honor Him, not in honor of ourselves.
So as we pray, fast and give alms during this season, let us try to focus on the true reason for doing this – to bring us closer to our God, to help us relate to Christ’s sacrifice for each of us, to help us understand the meaning of giving without receiving. This is the true Christian way. This is the way to please our God.