Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
Be careful not to make a show of your good deeds before people. If you do so, you do not gain anything from your Father in heaven. When you give something to the poor, do not have it trumpeted before you, as do those who want to be noticed in the synagogues and in the streets, in order to be praised by people. I assure you, they have their reward.
If you give something to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift remains really secret. Your Father, who sees what is kept secret, will reward you.
When you pray, do not be like those who want to be noticed. They love to stand and pray in the synagogues or on street corners, in order to be seen by everyone. I assure you, they have their reward. When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is with you in secret; and your Father who sees what is kept secret will reward you.
When you fast, do not put on a miserable face, as do the hypocrites. They put on a gloomy face, so that people can see they are fasting. I tell you this: they have been paid in full already. When you fast, wash your face and make yourself look cheerful, because you are not fasting for appearances or for people, but for your Father, who sees beyond appearances. And your Father, who sees what is kept secret, will reward you.
Today’s gospel reading is taken from Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, what has been called the Magna Carta or Basic Charter of Christianity—a unique document in the history of mankind.
Now in this same Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said earlier: “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and may glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:16). But now he says: “Do not show your good deeds,” especially when you give alms, pray or fast (the three traditional “good works” in Israel). Is Jesus contradicting himself here?
Not if we take into consideration a person’s intention. He condemns those who act “in order to be praised… in order to be seen… so that people can see.” The intention of a given action is, according to moral theologians, what specifies the moral quality of an action and ultimately makes it good or bad in the eyes of God. A terrorist who blows up people and himself with them in a suicide bombing thinks he is pleasing Allah by this horrible action. Yet, as long as his intention is pure, he does indeed please God and goes straight to heaven.
Why do we perform this or that good action? To impress the gallery or simply to please God? If it is to please God, then, by all means, let it shine before people and glorify God!
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