Be mindful that your social justice is not done in front of people, to be seen by them, for if so, you will get no wage from your father in heaven. When you are doing something charitable, do not sound a trumpet in front of you, as the play-actors do in the synagogues and streets, to gain plaudits from people. Amen, I tell you, they have received their wage. But you, when you are doing something charitable, don’t allow your left hand to know what your right is doing, so that your compassion may be secret, and your father who sees in secret will pay you back.
Why, when I’m giving to charity, and I could do it online, do I use the phone line? Because I want some other human being to know that I’m doing it! How did Jesus know these things?
Charitable: the Greek is the word for mercy, pity etc. but here ‘charitable’ with its overtones of something public and dutiful seems right.
Trumpet: so we have the English phrase, to blow your own trumpet. Maybe some very important people actually had this done.
Play actors: Usually translated ‘hypocrites’ which is a transliteration of the Greek word meaning simply the actors in a play.
Received their wage: Jesus recognised that some people did charity for social credit, observing that they would get what they were seeking.
In secret: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, killed by the Nazis, made much of what he called ‘The secret discipline of discipleship’ meaning the purity of what we do for God and our neighbour. The ‘in secret’ is the domain of our spiritual life which cannot be flaunted without degrading it.
Pay you back: I have resisted the language of reward in this section, using rather ‘wage’ and here ‘pay you back’ because that seems a more accurate translation of the Greek which envisages God paying what is owed.
This section deals with some duties of Jewish religion; charity, prayer and fasting. Jesus was not opposed to these, only to the opportunities for play acting they offered. Here again, he is ferocious in seeking the whole person, rather than an outward obedience.