ACTS OF PIETY ARE NOT TO BE PERFORMED FOR PEOPLE TO ADMIRE [MATTHEW 6:1-6,16-18]
“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” (Matthew 6:1).
Acts of piety are not to be performed for people to admire but must be genuine, and addressed to the heavenly Father alone. An insistence on simplicity and honesty appeared in the previous section when Jesus warned against devious speech (Matthew 5:33-37).
The same genuineness is now demanded regarding almsgiving (Matthew 6:1-4), prayer (Matthew 6:5-8), and fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). Ostentatious acts of “mercy” and pious posing for the sake of an audience are not worthy of the disciple. If one acts in order to win human approval rather than God’s, there will be no reward with our heavenly Father
The reference to rewards and punishments in this section – and elsewhere in the sermon – is not in terms of motivation but of consequence. The disciple is urged to be honest and single-hearted not in order to get a reward, but he is assured that our heavenly Father will, in fact, reward true righteousness.
These verses, which are peculiar to Matthew’s Gospel, are timeless in their scorching indictment of vanity and hypocrisy. Once again, today’s Gospel reading is indeed a compelling illustration of what discipleship means flashes before the Christian’s eyes. A veneer of religiosity or well publicized acts of “charity” or asceticism do not define the true follower or disciple of Jesus. Steadfast, unassuming fidelity does.
Jakarta, 18 June 2014
A Christian Pilgrim