IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
The word “hypocrite” occurs more than a dozen times in Matthew’s gospel, which should illustrate how much this particular sin concerned Jesus. Consequently, it should also concern us, especially now that we begin Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. All three can bring out the hypocrite in us. Jesus says that we should do everything in secret, but considering that most churches require their members to do these things, how can one possibly keep this a secret? Jesus must surely mean something else when he speaks about doing things in secret. Yes, he does. He says: Don’t do these things TO BE SEEN! It’s a question of motive.
Most actors act in order to be seen. They love performing in front of an audience and bask in the applause and the adulation that follows. They love their celebrity status and all the perks that come with it. Now, most of us — let’s be honest — would also love to be in the spotlight, admired and appreciated by others. However, since we cannot be movie stars, or soccer stars, or whatever, we are left to using devices that are available to us. Spiritually, these are the three things many of us will start doing today: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We can do them to gain the praise of people. Jesus is saying: Don’t! Do it for one reason only: to please God.
If we can only keep this advice in mind — that our only motivation should be to please God — then we cannot go wrong. Therefore, when praying, instead of making long-winded prayers in public, let us go to our room, lock the door, and pray in secret, just as Jesus advises us to do (see Matthew 6:6). When giving alms, let’s do it as quietly as possible, and as Paul urges us to do it cheerfully because God loves a cheerful giver (see 2 Corinthians 9:7). And when we fast, let’s put on our brightest faces, so nobody knows we are fasting. And, as Jesus promises us, God will reward us in all three cases.
Before we conclude, it would be nice if we could think about one more thing. Why is it that we think about doing these things only during Lent? These are all disciplines we should be following every day of our life as followers of Christ. Therefore, as we observe these practices during this time, let it become a habit that we will not stop once Lent is over but continue until our lives are over. Studies show that it takes 40 days to make a habit of something, so once made, let’s not break it. What do you think?
So turn off the spotlight and have a blessed season of Lent.