Posts Tagged ‘hypocrisy’

Making It Count

public prayerAnd when you pray, don’t be like performing actors who love to pray in assemblies and stand on street corners so that people can see them.  In all honesty, I say to you, that is their payment.–Matthew 6:5

Jesus: Tell me. What’s up with those people who want to pray in schools and sporting events?  It’s strange that they want to pray publicly.

Me: I can’t speak for all of your followers but I think people enjoy praying together.

Jesus: There has to be something else to it because that’s not praying. I’m kind of an expert on prayer. That is not prayer.

Me: What do you mean that’s not praying?  Of course, it’s praying. It is people talking to God, just like you taught us to do.

Jesus: I never taught you to pray like that.  In fact, I told you, if you want to follow me, not to pray publicly like that.  So this whole concept of praying publicly is the exact opposite of what I asked you to do.

Me: But we pray in worship services.

Jesus: Are you trying to suggest that a high school graduation is a worship service?  Is a session of Congress a worship service?

Me: Of course not, but people want to pray as a way to center themselves, as a way to think of God first.

Jesus: I disagree. The real reason people want to pray in public has nothing to do with their relationship with our Father.  It has to do with their relationship with themselves.

Me: What do you mean?

Jesus: These are not even prayers. They are performances. The whole thing is a pretend conversation with God. And like any good enactment, the goal is to be heard. People pray publicly so that others can hear them.

Me: Sure.

Jesus: Pray so that God can hear you, not everyone else.


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?

No One Needs to Know

george-costanza“Therefore, when you give to the poor do not sound the alarms like those people performing in a worship service or on the streets so that people may honor them.  I say to you, in all honesty, that is their payment.”–Matthew 6:2

Do you see this guy to the left?  You probably remember George Costanza from the great sitcom, Seinfeld.  In one episode, George is furious when he opens a card from a friend.  The friend has given money to an organization in George’s name, an alliance for needy children.  It is a noble gift.  George does not appreciate it.  He sees it as an opportunity to give out Christmas gifts without really giving anything.  He  comes up with a fake, non-profit organization, the Human Fund.  He delivers cards to all of his co-workers with the phrase, “A donation in your name has been made to the Human Fund–money for people.”

What makes it so funny is that we all get letters like this.  I often am humbled when someone hands me a card explaining that a gift has been made in my name.  It seems like a good thing, right?  It feels good to give.  It feels great to know that someone thought of me when she or he gives.

And then there are the thousands of examples of corporations giving philanthropically.  Companies really like to tell the world when they have done something charitable.  Companies like their names on signs.  Giving to those in need makes for great advertising.  It is a travesty to take part in charitable giving and not give a press release.  Like a tree falling in the woods, can a corporation donate money without telling anyone?

Jesus teaches that we need to be anonymous with our giving.  Why?  Doesn’t it feel great to give?  Isn’t it great to get publicity when we do?  Apparently that is the whole point.  Jesus makes it clear that it is not about us!  His followers are to love other people, even those people we do not like.  Our love is to be so genuine that we cannot perform acts of love for our own sake, for our own good feeling.  It is the word, ‘perform,’ that seems important to Christ.  Matthew uses ‘hypocrite’ to describe Jesus’ intent.  Hypocrites are performers, actors on the stage with bold movements so that everyone can see.  We are to be ourselves and not actors.  We are not called to play characters that do charitable giving, no matter how funny George Costanza can be.

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