Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
“The Lord who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.”
To be appreciated and praised in public undoubtedly constitutes an important element in a person’s life. It would be an incentive for the person to continue with his good work and serve as a source of inspiration for many people. That is why we have rank-holders’ meetings and public rewards for those who have done great things in their respective fields of competency. But when such a concept of ‘work-reward’ comes into religious life, then there is a problem. Is Jesus asking us today to do things in secret? If so, then there should not be any lament regarding the churches becoming empty. We could take for granted that people are in their private rooms praying to the Lord rather than coming to a church to pray. More than exterior disposition, the passage points to an interior disposition. “The Lord who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.”
Uprightness for the Jewish population consisted in three main things: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Jesus is attacking precisely these three actions in today’s Gospel passage. He points to the reality that many Jews perform these three activities to be recognized as upright persons in the society. It is here that Jesus brings in a new law: to perform actions not to please others but to please God. In the book of Amos, we see Yahweh condemning the public show of the offerings of the Israelites by which they deceive themselves by not performing the offerings with correct mental disposition (Amos 4:5). There are so many instances in which we see famous biblical personalities making a public profession of their worship. A typical example for this is David dancing naked in front of the Ark of the Covenant. David’s intention was not to make a parade of his piety but to please God. “God looks at the heart while men look at the externals.” (1 Sam 16: 7). God searches the hearts of human beings and finds out the intention behind the actions that we do. That is why the psalmist cried out: “you examine me and know me; you understand my thoughts from afar.” (Psalm 139:1-3). This is the same message that today’s Gospel passage gives us. What is my intention when I pray, fast and give alms to others? Even if there is no one around me but my intention is to have spiritual pride, then my effort is useless. On the other hand, even if I am in the midst of the crowd and my intention is to please God and not to gain recognition in the society then I will be rewarded by God.