The Right of the Right

Love the LeftBut when you perform compassionate acts, like giving to the poor, do not let your left know what your right is doing.–Matthew 6:3

I know the slide very well.  It is a long way up and a fast fall down. . .

It all starts when I do something nice for someone else.  For instance, I buy someone’s lunch.  It is a kind gesture.  It is a gift of love.  Or to quote Jesus here, it is an act of compassion.  It is the same word used to describe the Good Samaritan.  It is mercy.  It is giving to someone in need.  The first step is a lot of fun.  Giving feels great.  The simple act of buying someone’s lunch can give you a sense of satisfaction.

I do it again.  Why not?  It feels great to give in the first place so I will do it a second time and a third time.  A habit forms.  I become a giving, compassionate person.  I start buying lunches for everyone–hamburgers, chili, salads, hot dogs.

Then the problem begins (besides indigestion).  All of that giving makes me think that I am a pretty great person.  My self-recognition changes.  My head gets bigger.  My pride takes over.  Now, instead of doing something for another person out of love, I give to another person because of who I think I am.  The focus changes from the other person to myself.  I start to believe that I am too good of a person to give anymore.  Other people need to buy my lunch now.  A pattern forms.  Giving leads to more giving, which leads to pride, which leads to less giving, which leads to no giving.

Jesus sees this in people.  He knows the temptation of pride that can happen when we are charitable.  It is not enough to tell his disciples not to make a big deal about giving.  Christ also warns about what can happen if we tell ourselves that we give.  It can lead to overlooking other people.  Thomas a Kempis, the great German priest, explains it simply,

If you see anything good in yourself, believe still better things of others and you will, then, preserve humility.

The right has a right not to tell so that the right can keep doing what is right. Is that right?

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