“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, 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 honoured by men. I tell you the truth, 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.” (Matthew 6:1-4/NIV).
These are Jesus’ instructions about giving. The poor and needy cannot give us anything in return. So at least we might desire some social recognition for the good that we do. We would seek to assure ourselves that we really are doing a lot for these people.
Jesus says there is a greater reward than being recognised as a good man or woman by the religious community. Will God be pleased with what we are doing? If God himself will be on our side, who will be against us?
Now just imagine, I managed to supply a healthy soup to a starving person in two consecutive weeks. I get so excited about myself doing so much good. I begin to say to myself: Oh, Thomas has become a good man at last.
But really, one soup a week is not enough to save the life of somebody so close to dying from hunger. One soup a day would have been better but still a very scant provision. How much food is needed to keep somebody alive? How about some appropriate medicine?
Is it a great thing to prevent a death? Would it not be better to see somebody restored so he or she can again care for his or her own needs?
What if I broadcast that I have given one soup a week to one person for two weeks? If anybody should care enough to ask about what happened in the third week I will have to admit that the object of my well-doing died shortly after receiving my second soup. This would be a shame on me. Everybody would know that I just pretended to do something good. I did not ask what the dying person really needed, I just was exceedingly proud of doing something.
But let me change the scene for a moment. Just imagine I had been on a solitary trip and I had run out of food myself. The only food I had in the first week was the soup that I gave away. In the next week I again was given a cup of soup and again gave it to this poor dying person. I was hungry myself but better off than the other. So I gave the only food available to myself.
I would not tell anybody. I was unable to really help this dying individual. I felt very sorry I could not do more.
Now Jesus says that God in heaven would see our good deeds done in secret. He would reward us openly.
Really both of these stories are deliberately invented. Yet there is one big question to any helping person: Is my help of any avail? The needs of individuals and of societies are great.
Jesus would recommend us to think about the needs and to do the best we can. Then we might hope for God to reward us one day (- provided we have faith in God).