These studies look at the overwhelming goodness of the Triune God. Depicted by Andrei Rublev's icon of The Holy Trinity.
 

Matthew 6:1-4

"1 Beware of practicing your piety before men 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 alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Jesus has been teaching His disciples about the nature of righteousness. In the beatitudes He gave them a new understanding of who is blessed. To be blessed is to know your longing and need for God and for His righteousness to fill everything. We are blessed when we are willing to receive from God His life for us, when we are willing to let Him tell us who we really are. This poverty of spirit comes from a realization that everything else in this creation, including ourselves, cannot get us life.

Jesus then went on to tell His listeners that true righteousness has to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. He told them that He Himself is the One who does this, who fulfills God's will for righteousness. God's will for us is not just to do righteous things, but to be truly set right from the inside out. He intends to satisfy our deepest, built-in longing to see all things, all of creation, set right. And this He does in Jesus, who takes on our fallen humanity and fulfills the whole will of God, making all things right. In our poverty of spirit, in our longing for righteousness, we receive and share in Jesus' righteousness which is partially and imperfectly manifested in us now, but will, in the end, totally transform us by the power of the Spirit into Christ's likeness.

Having spoken on the need to be truly righteous, Jesus gives several illustrations to help His readers understand what this righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees looks like. Righteousness is first of all living in and enjoying the relationship with God for which we were created. From there, true righteousness works itself out in truly right relationships with others--right from our side regardless of how the other behaves towards us. As we receive God's love and life to fill our poverty of spirit, He gives us His righteousness, which involves a freedom to move towards others with grace and love regardless of how they may regard and treat us. Jesus concludes the section on true righteousness telling His hearers that God's will for them is that they become perfect. God's love for us will not be satisfied until we are complete and whole in Him. He loves us--to perfection.

Now Jesus turns to the practice of piety, as it is seen in almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Piety is the personal practice of one's faith. He begins by speaking on almsgiving. Giving alms is providing for the needs of the poor. It was a central practice to the Jews--their form of assistance to the poor, since the government offered little or none. But it would seem by Jesus' words, that this practice was now done by many in a public way that held the prospect of gaining the giver the recognition and adulation of others.

The issue Jesus is dealing with in this passage is motive. Why do we give to others who are less fortunate than ourselves? It would seem that Jesus exposes an underlying motive to giving, namely having our generosity recognized or acknowledged. We don't like giving in a vacuum--we want there to be a return for our effort, a positive, affirming response.

What is interesting to see in this passage is that Jesus does not tell his listeners that their desire for recognition is bad and that they should work to rid themselves of it. Instead, He tells them that they are seeking recognition, or reward, from the wrong place. How does Jesus motivate them to give their alms in secret? He does so with the statement that "your Father who sees in secret will reward you." Jesus tells His listeners, not that they should not desire reward, but that they should desire the proper reward for their deeds, from the only One who can give it.

Jesus reminds His listeners who God is. God is the Father who sees in secret. We may be tempted at times to live as if God doesn't care about us personally, that He is not watching, He is not paying attention to our lives. We begin to live as if He is distant, and not close by, with us. Or we are tempted to think that God doesn't really care about what we do, or if He does, it is only to make sure that we are doing our job--but certainly not to reward us! Can God be truly interested in rewarding us fragile creatures? According to Jesus, yes, He is! We are not just His creatures, we are His children. God is our Father. And as our Father He is intensely interested in us. He is present even when no one else is. When we think no one is there and no one cares, God our Father is watching, even in those secret places and moments.

Jesus wants to motivate His listeners by faith. He wants them to live out of a counting on their Heavenly Father to be truly ever present and watchful. Nothing is lost on God. He sees even the smallest acts of kindness or goodness that we do. And, Jesus is saying, God takes our giving as if we are giving to Him. He is the One who rewards us. This to me is truly amazing. God takes me so seriously that He is willing to actually reward me--as if my small and feeble gifts mean something to Him!

But what about this phrase "in secret"? Why does our Father see in secret? Does this mean that when we are charitable in a public way, so as to draw attention to ourselves, God does not see it? Apparently, this is the case. God does not recognize and reward us when we are looking for the approval and recognition of others for our deeds. If we hope to find our identity, our significance from those around us, then we get only what they might be able to give us, which often isn't much. There are great limitations to what other human beings can provide for us in response to watching our acts of generosity. Why are we so often tempted to ask others to give us a feeling of value and purpose? As fallen human beings, they are suffering from the same frailties and brokenness that we are and are often looking to us for the same sense of significance that we are hoping to get from them. More often than not, we stir up envy and jealousy in others when trying to show how "giving and kind" we are.

Only God, our Father, can give to us the response that is truly fitting and appropriate to our actions. Our almsgiving is meant to be one way we participate in God's giving to His creation, giving to us. The Jews gave alms because God commanded it, and He commanded it because of His concern for the poor, a concern He desires that we share in. In our sharing with others, we come to recognize that we too are dependent on the generosity of Another. We are all receivers of grace, unable to give ourselves life and meaning. We can give to others out of our counting on our heavenly Father to take care of us, to truly be our Father. This is the right, appropriate reason to give alms. When we give in a public way, for others to see and recognize, then that is the reason we are giving. We are being charitable so that others will be impressed. Such giving counts on , puts faith in, what other people can give us. So God leaves us to receive whatever they may have to offer.

Jesus invites His listeners to give up the inadequate and elusive reward they can receive from others and to give in such a way that they receive a response from their Heavenly Father. Unlike humans, who only see each other on display in public, God sees in secret because He is watching us, He is paying attention to us. He can see what other cannot. He can see our hearts as well as our acts.

What a tremendous freedom and assurance Jesus is speaking of here! God so desires that we participate in His generosity by giving to others that He is committed to being present and active in every action of our giving that we do out of trust in Him. We can count on Him to be so interested and involved in our charity that no small, quiet act of giving will go unnoticed by Him. If we grab hold of this truth, we can be freed to give freely and joyfully, never wondering or concerned about who might see or recognize its true value, because we know God has already received the action and rewarded it. We can always play to this audience of One, because He is always there.

There are many and varied ways we may try to let people know what we have done and how hard we have worked so that they will appreciate us. What a waste of time and energy! When I count on God to be intimately involved, interested, and responsive in my life, I am free to give without regard to the circumstances. Gaining the recognition of others becomes completely irrelevant. I don't even need to pay particular attention to it myself. Jesus encourages His listeners that when they give, "do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." We can be so free of concern in our giving, that we are not focusing on it, trying to give ourselves recognition and reward for what we have done. We are to turn away from ourselves and rather focus on and count on our Father to be the Father He reveals Himself to be.

God is not distant and slow to pay attention to us. He is present, near, and ready to recognize and encourage any tiny step in His direction. With a heavenly Father like this, we are free to enjoy giving to others with a freedom and an abandon, because we know our Father receives it all and gives us the response we so long for. He is willing to have our actions count and be worthy of reward from Him. I have to wonder when I see this why I ever settle for something so much less.

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