“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
This is the traditional reading at the start of Lent, when we are asked to pray, fast and give alms. However, these are not things we are required to do only during Lent, but something we need to practice constantly throughout the year. They help us to deepen our relationship with God, strengthen our moral backbone, and make our faith something that we put into practice. We find instructions to pray, fast, and give alms throughout Scripture suggesting their spiritual significance to us.
However, there is the very real danger — as with everything we do — that we do these things for the WRONG reasons. Primary among these is the desire to look good in the eyes of others. This leads to public displays of our practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. As we have seen several times over the past couple of years, everything we do has to be for the love and glory of God, and for the love and glory of God alone. Anything else receives a rebuke from our Lord, as we can see in today’s passage.
One of the benefits of the lockdown is that everything has become “secret” by default. Consequently, it has served to reveal our true motivation in doing things. Those of us who continue to pray, to fast, to give alms despite having no one SEE us do this are revealing that their hearts are true. Those of us who have stopped everything have revealed that their hearts are false, and any love of God that was hitherto displayed was just a show put on for the benefit of others. That’s NOT necessarily a bad thing; realizing the truth about ourselves can be a catalyst for change.
Now I want to give you some good news. If we are to do this — the three things we are talking about — for the RIGHT reasons, there are rewards in store for us! And who doesn’t like those? In the passage we just read, Jesus tells us three times: “your Father who sees in secret with reward you”. The rewards are not just those we will receive after Judgement Day. The rewards are obtained right here on earth. What are they? Jesus gives us a clue when he says, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).
Those of us who are baptized in Christ have received the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit, who is the gift of God, comes bearing gifts too. These are really awesome gifts, and God rewards us with them when we seek them in prayer. When we pray, what is it we ask for? Isn’t it for worldly things? We are people of heaven; we should be asking for heavenly things. What are these? If you haven’t watched my video on the gifts of the Holy Spirit please do watch it now. You will discover how wonderful these gifts are, and ask God for them.
And he will reward us with them.