By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE
"Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them..."
In a world where actions and results take precedent over thoughts and intents, Jesus’ words on how to give, fast, and pray seem excessive. Is it not enough that people do these things in the first place? In light of the gospel passage in the Mass readings eight days ago, in which Jesus informs His disciples that their “light must shine before other that [the people] may see their good deeds” (Mt 5:16), it seems contradictory to now tell them to keep their good deeds secret. If the Church has any chance of spreading, her disciples must show the world how pious and joyful they are.
However, this modern way of thinking confuses the meaning of Christ’s commands to evangelize. He does not want Christians to market and sell a product, but to share and love God Almighty. Marketing deals with appearances; sharing deals with reality. Selling works with the external; loving works with the internal. When people treat their faith in God as a nifty self-help program or a specific political agenda—a common failing among the Pharisees, Sadducees, and nearly all Pagan religions of that time—that faith dies and few people are truly converted. Christ does not want His listeners to simply support and follow Him, but rather believe in His Father and orient their whole lives to Him.
In matters of Christian conversion, the means do not justify the ends because both means and ends are the same. Christ is the Way (means) and the Truth (end) and the Life (means and end). The disciple cannot live a holy life without Jesus, and he cannot trade off a holy life for a sinful reward with Jesus’s help.
Unfortunately, many will try all the same. They will make a spectacle of their good deeds to win more fans, earn more respect, and reassure their own egos. With this, they can have more influence and thus power to recreate the world in their image. A billionaire can fund many projects that help others, which also helps to build his brand and puts people under his charge. The rock star who raises money with a charity concert also happens to raise money for himself by increasing his audience. And all those organizations intent on serving the poor and neglected in society often end with simply serving their own organization. Charity quickly departs God’s holy realm and enters the man-made realms of politics, economics, and entertainment.
Intentions obviously matter, and bad intentions will yield bad results. Christians must give with intention of loving the other: he is not a politician hoping to have another vote; he is not a salesman hoping to hook another client; and he is not a celebrity looking to have another admirer. If he gives with intent of loving, he gives freely and wishes freedom for the receiver. He gives as Jesus gives, with the hope of liberating and empowering the other.
The giver should not expect gratitude, though he does show gratitude towards God for having the chance to give. He only prays for the receiver’s conversion so that he may experience the same joy that comes from a life of faith. Jesus feeds thousands, but He does this for the purposes of conversion, not the purpose of winning political support as the crowd wants to think. Jesus heals the blind, sick, and possessed, again for the same reason, yet people still refuse to look beyond the spectacle despite His repeated injunctions to do so.
People both then and now have grown so accustomed to suspecting selfish motives that they cannot even fathom a selfless act. Most of them will believe that a selfless act is logically impossible. It is true that “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26). God makes this way out of oneself possible with His Son. With the gifts of faith and hope, a person can love selflessly.
One might object that even if this disciple loves selflessly, he only does so to earn a place in Heaven and avoid Hell, making him a hypocrite. But then again, what is Heaven but union with God, and Hell but a divorce from Him? And what is God but Love? With this in mind, the Christian loves another person here on earth in order to love God in Heaven for eternity. Because he believes and hopes in Love, he loves and performs an act of sacrifice. This is God, not the self, at work. This kind of love is therefore infinitely different from the man who loves because he fears public disapproval or seeks some kind of gratification.
Christ does not want Christians to hide their good deeds; He wants them to hide themselves. Good deeds should only glorify God. If they are truly good, then they originate from God anyway and only He should be credited. Once this is understood and practiced, that person’s good deeds can spawn other good deeds and spark conversion. People will not make the mistake of worshipping the creature, but rather look beyond to the Creator. They will convert, not for their own sake, not for someone else’s sake, but for God’s sake. And when they do this, they may love selflessly and all the more joyfully.