“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-6 (New International Version)
Try reading this text again, this time replacing the word ‘hypocrite’ with ‘pretender.’
This word ‘hypocrite’ can also be translated as ‘stage player’ or ‘actor.’
It’s almost as if Jesus is grooming a team of covert operatives for the Kingdom! By teaching His followers to give in secret and pray in secret, the appropriate follow-up question from this text appears to be,
“Can YOU keep a secret?”
There’s a troubling little word that surfaces in religious circles and is often seen as a negative: Piety.
Wikipedia defines piety in these terms:
‘Piety can be either genuine, in that it springs from spiritual piety, or false, in that it is an attempt to exhibit the signs of piety for their own sake, or for some other reason, (such as propitiation or public esteem).’
What Jesus is describing to His listeners in Matthew 6 is the false kind of piety that is staged by someone who seeks public recognition for what ought to be a private expression of faithful commitment between Father and child. When they put themselves and their deeds on display, Jesus tells us that these thespians are rewarded with the attention they seek. What they fail to receive, however, is the reward of a God who is looking for secret-keepers, not exhibitionists, to participate in the work of His Kingdom.
Now, it’s important to note that the secret-keeping Jesus is advocating here is NOT a secret society kind of hush-hush that makes insiders and outsiders in a cliquish sort of way. Rather, it’s as if Jesus is asking whether our personal connection with God Himself is, well… real.
Are we doing what we do for God only, or for what we stand to gain from appearing to be connected with Him?
It’s also as if Jesus is asking “Can you keep a secret” – not FROM ME, but WITH ME?
Is there anything quite as intimate as a secret shared? Whether between BFF’s (ask your daughter what that means), lovers or close family friends, a secret shared between us has the power to knit our lives together in ways that nothing else really can.
In this context, what if prayers were like pillow talk? Those quiet, intensely intimate discussions shared in private places, beyond the meddling eyes of the watching world. Maybe this is what Jesus meant by praying behind closed doors.
When we are in love or so connected to another that we find ourselves doing everything in light of that relationship, the most important thing for me to do is to make you happy! When what matters to YOU matters to me SO MUCH that I want nothing more than to see you have your heart’s desire, I’ve figured out what it means to practice secret giving. No one else needs to see what I’m doing. In fact, no one else will probably understand the value of what I’m doing! Only you. I do it all for you.
The question, “Can you keep a secret?” has implications for those of us who seek to live off-stage in a world full of performers. The way we answer this question answers a host of other questions as well; questions like:
Can I trust you?
Is our relationship as valued in your eyes as it is in mine?
Can I show myself to you? Can I reveal more of myself to you?
Do you value what I value?
Do I matter to you?
Quite literally, may our answer to these questions be a resounding “YES” today!