Alms, Prayer & Fasting 6: 1-18
Showing Off v. 1
In the Jewish culture of the time there were three religious core values: alms giving, prayer, fasting. All three could be done in secret but they also could be done publicly with great show of piety. One could give to the beggar, and beseech heaven with theatrical flourish, and fast with slumped shoulders, unwashed face, soiled clothing and bad breath. In every case attention was paid to pious pilgrim by the people, with little or no notice in heaven. Jesus casts such displays as counter-productive. They may impress the public, he says, but your Father will not be pleased.
How NOT to Give vv.2-4
The goal, Jesus is implying, is uncalculating generosity. But to get there one needs to know a few things.
First of all, “alms” meant “righteousness”. Or, as the Greek suggests “rightwiseness”. In the Jewish culture almsgiving and righteousness were equivalent. In the Hebrew language “tzadkah” (righteousness) is used for both. Righteousness was identifies with “mercifulness” and in most cases associated with giving money fo the poor. A much quoted aphorism of the rabbis was, “Greater is he who gives alms than he who offers sacrifices.” Another was, “He who gives alms in secret is greater than Moses.” The ideal, indeed the ultimate, occurred when the donor gave and the recipient received “blindly”. This way only God received the glory.