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.
- Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
Today’s world leaders and critics often speak about the value of transparency; we long to post everything on social media under the guise of being open, honest, and expressive. We share our lives for all the world to see, and we look into each others’ lives with a curiosity that can occasionally be voyeuristic. Reality and fiction are often blurred in this world, and the truth can easily become relative. In this world, it is far too easy to let appearances deceive us; shiny objects make us believe that we are looking at gold.
To this world, Jesus’ words can seem alien. He reminds us of the positive side of privacy. When we pray in order to get more “likes”, when we give away our wealth in order to get our picture posted, when we blow our own horn in order to get ears to turn toward us, then we are only deceiving ourselves. Our true being remains hidden from us and even from others.
“Do the right thing when nobody is watching” was always a plea from Ms. Smith to my eighth grade English class. While not original to her, that line pops up in my mind throughout my life. In fact, I would learn that it originated with the theologian C.S. Lewis as a definition of integrity - finding our “true” self.
Jesus teaches his disciples to worry less about the show of piety and more about simply practicing love, generosity, connection, and humility. We will know we are on the right path when we can stand alone before God in our own small space and simply BE with God. This is private and liberating at the same time, without the pressure of others watching and evaluating us. This kind of privacy allows us to stumble a bit without long-term consequences in a media-driven world. We can be honest with ourselves and with God, knowing we are loved and forgiven. And no one can separate us from that love and forgiveness.