Gospel: 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.
In order to determine the morality of an action (i.e whether is it good or bad), one has to take into account three things: the circumstances of the action (which only make it better or worse), the nature of the action and, most importantly, the intention of the one doing the action. This latter condition is so decisive that, if a person does an objectively wrong action (while not knowing it is wrong) but with a right intention, then that person will please God.
In today’s gospel reading we hear Jesus zeroing in on the intention of two opposite categories of people. In the first category, the people do good actions (alms, prayer, fasting) but with the wrong intention: they are acting for the gallery. They act “in order to be praised,” as the text says, or “in order to be seen” or “so that people can see.” The words “in order that” or “so that” clearly refer to their aim, their intention.
In the second category, the people do the same good actions but only to please the heavenly Father. And this purity of intention earns them the Father’s warm approval.
When we perform a good action, do we act to impress people or do we want to please our heavenly Father?