“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:1-8)
Why did Jesus say that we should be careful not to do our righteousness in front of other people? Because we need to consider carefully what it is that motivates us. Too often, we behave as we do not because we are concerned with others, but because we are concerned with ourselves and what we can get from it. One oddity in Jesus’ behavior that is remarked upon frequently was the fact that he would heal someone, cast out a demon, even raise someone from the dead, and one of the first things he’d tell the person healed was “don’t tell anyone about this.” Jesus practiced what he preached.
It may sound cynical, but our motivations are mostly self-centered. We like the people we like because they like us and are nice to us. We give gifts to people that we like, and who are most likely to give us gifts in return. How reluctant we are to be kind to those who are mean to us! We like to be praised and thanked for what we do. After all, we write not just “to” but also “from” on the gifts that we give. We want people to know who cleaned up, who contributed the money, who fixed the broken pipe. We expect gratitude and become grumpy when we don’t get it. Jesus wants us to rethink our attitudes.