Day 39: Matthew 6:2-4

So when you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it, as the hypocrites do in the houses of worship and on the streets. They do it so that people will praise them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. But when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. Then it will be a private matter. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.

[This is a continuation of Jesus’ teaching about proper performance of religious duties.  He is explaining to his disciples how they can bemore faithful than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees in doing what God requires.” (See Day 23)].

Here’s a scripture that requires no explanation.  It’s perfectly clear what he’s talking about.  It’s like companies that donate money to worthy causes using those “big checks” so they can make it a “2fer” and get some good publicity while they’re at it. “2 for 1.”  Killing 2 birds with 1 stone.  Helping someone out, but getting something out of it for yourself.  Like publicity.  Or a tax break.  Or self validation. Just like these guys yucking it up with their big check:

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I’ll be the first to admit that I have trouble with this one.  Actually learning to give to strangers has been a journey for me.  I grew up in the country in the Midwest, so I was raised to believe in self-reliance.  Everyone took care of themselves and their own.  There weren’t very many poor people and they certainly didn’t beg on the streets.  Later, after I moved to Chicago there were plenty of beggars and I usually just ignored them.  They seemed threatening and annoying.

In Chicago I rode the bus to work every day.  Adjacent to my place of employment was an old factory that employed a lot of temporary laborers.  I was on my way home on Christmas Eve day and I overheard a couple of guys who were sitting behind me.  One asked the other what he was doing for Christmas.  His seat-mate replied, “I don’t know.  There isn’t any money for presents for the kids.  I guess I’ll just pick up a 6-pack and some pizza. It’s so damned depressing.”  I heard a little voice in my heart say, “Reach into your purse and give him $50.”  I really wanted to do it but I was afraid, and I wasn’t sure, at that point in my life, what that voice was all about.  I thought the guy might be embarassed, or even angry because I was eavesdropping.  I didn’t give the guy the money and I felt terrible.

I always remembered that incident and after I started chasing God I made a vow to myself that I would never let that happen again.  I would just put myself out there and give whenever I saw a need, including those beggars on the street.

One of the first real opportunities came up when one of our friends got AIDS.  When winter came I saw that he only had a jacket, not a real coat and I felt like I was supposed to buy one for him.  He was really happy to get the coat.  He didn’t seem embarrassed at all and he actually wore it.  I was pretty proud of myself, so when someone mentioned that it was great that G. had a nice new coat…I heard the Holy Spirit say, “Keep quiet”….but I didn’t.  I said, “I got it for him because blah blah blah…..”  Then I felt bad. I knew that by patting myself on the back I had done something wrong.  It felt like failure again.

Over the years I got used to giving things away and it got easier and more natural. I like giving and I think I give for the right reasons. I seldom feel compelled to talk about it but every now and then I do.  Sometimes it’s OK.  I mean, sometimes talking about a particular charitable act can be an invitation or encouragement to someone.  But other times I think I “2fer” it by using it to publicize my church, or to try to promote Christianity, or to get some kind of affirmation about my life and my choices. The problem is that there are times when I get that warning from the Spirit that I should keep it to myself, but I ignore it.  I don’t know why it happens, so it’s something I keep working on.  It’s unhealthy and I need to learn to keep my mouth shut.  I know I can do it if I put my mind to it.

Right now I’m blessed to be around a lot of people who give very freely without any real consciousness about it.  I’m sure it’s doing me a lot of good to have friends who are so mature in this area.  I need to remember that giving is a spiritual discipline.  It’s one of the things I can do to honor God and strengthen my relationship with him.  It’s one of the things I can do to extend God’s love to the people I know and the strangers I meet.  I need to want that more than I want immediate gratification.

So, my friends, the next time you hear me brag about some charitable thing please call me out.  Help me get rid of that “big check”/”2fer” mentality.  Don’t do it in a mean way.  Do it in a nice way. Please. Thank you.  That is all.

What does this scripture say to you?

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3 thoughts on “Day 39: Matthew 6:2-4

  1. I never thought of giving as a spiritual discipline…I guess I think a spiritual discipline has to be hard but giving has always been pretty easy for me. Like you though, I sometimes struggle with keeping my mouth shut about it.

  2. Pingback: Scripture Countdown: Number 97 | Who Are You Following?

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