Brothers and sisters, here is the point: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, "He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.
You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us.
Jesus said to his disciples,
"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.
We must give for God's sake rather than look for praise from others; act silently rather than ostentatiously. At the same time, most of us cannot do without the good example of others. There is value in remembering God's deeds in the lives of his saints. Paul even goes so far as to claim that the more we give to others, the more we ourselves will have, since "Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will reap generously." He seems to echo the Book of Proverbs (11:24-25), one of the most practical books in the entire Bible. It never stirs up a prophetic tempest, and cautiously tempers excessive zeal.
To feel needy for constant approval is not psychologically or spiritually healthy. Such people are fundamentally insecure, and so are grasping for crutches to hold onto. They are so taken up with themselves, with telling their own story and seeking praise for their own acts, that they have little time for others. In turn, others find it more and more difficult to converse with them, and so their friends drop off and keep their distance. Jesus offers healthy advice when he says, "Do not blow a horn before you in synagogues and streets, looking for applause." He goes on to propose a low-key approach to almsgiving, doing it anonymously, "not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing." The underlying motive for acts of mercy should be that they are acts of basic human decency, done according to the will of God, "and your Father who sees in secret will repay you."
We should try to respect both our own dignity and that of others whenever we are in a position to help them, whether with material or spiritual help. One way, of course, is by anonymous giving, so nobody knows who did it except God "who sees in secret." Another way, Paul suggests, is to live so cheerfully that we get more joy out of giving than the other does in receiving our gift. In this case the centre of activity is the relationship: we are the happiest in seeing others happy, because we love them.
Today's gospel begins with Jesus saying, "Be careful not to parade your good deeds before others to attract their notice." Yet, a little earlier in the same sermon, Jesus appears to have said the very opposite of that, "Let you light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven." There seems to be a tension between these sayings. Yet, there is truth in both. We are not to hide the light of our faith, keeping it under a bushel; rather, we are to publicly proclaim our faith, our relationship with the Lord, by the lives that we lead, by the deeds that we do.
On the other hand, we are not to publicly proclaim our faith in order to attract notice or draw attention to ourselves, to win praise or reputation. Rather, our public living of our faith is with a view to bringing glory to God. Today's gospel invites us to ask, "Who is being honoured by my public living of my relationship with the Lord? Is it myself or is it God?" Another way of asking that question is, "Who is being served by my good deeds? Is it myself or is it the Lord?" The opening petitions of the Lord's Prayer points us in the right direction, "Hallowed by your name, your kingdom come."