January 6, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

How NOT to Give vv. 2-4 Part 3

As is often the case with language and culture there is a blurring of the lines over time. For example, the “Pharisees” and the “Sadducees” emerged as differing religious sub-cultures in the latter half of the second century before Christ. Their sectarian DNA, however, can be seen as far back as the return of the exiles from Babylon around 537 BC. Once situated again in Judea, they became known as the “Hasideans” and the “Hellenizers”. The Hasideans (or “Hasids” as they are known to this day in modern Israel) were focused on strict adherence to the Law of Moses (and the oral tradition known as the Talmud), while the Hellenizers (or, “Sadducees” as they were later known) were committed to liberalizing Judaism and assimilating the values of Greek culture. The Sadducees essentially were a political sect, the Hasidim (“Pious Ones”) a religious. But there was one issue that found them in agreement: they both felt threatened by Jesus. His life and teaching was antithetical to theirs, and in their world of theological and moral absolutes Jesus was not just counter-culture, he was dangerous. “What if the whole world goes after him?” they spluttered. “He’s got to be stopped.”

So, while the “trumpeted” their alms, Jesus called for total secrecy. His word about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing is intriguing. It may have been a proverbial statement, but it could have referred to the Jewish practice of offering gifts at the altar in the Temple with the right hand. The best instincts of the soul were seen as “right-handed”, while the more pedestrian inclinations were seen as “left-handed”. So there should be no mix of motives in charity, says Jesus. Keep your gifts “close to the chest”. When you do, your omniscient Father will take notice. Any “reward” is up to Him.

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