February 6, 2011 – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In a few weeks, on Ash Wednesday, we’ll hear Jesus’ teaching from a later portion of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 6), where he tells us to “not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret.”
But in today’s Gospel from Matthew 5, he instructs us “your light must shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” So are our good deeds to be secret, or should they be open? The answer depends on our motivation.
If we are searching for praise, we are seeking our own glory, not God’s. But that’s not the approach Christians are supposed to take. As St. Peter wrote, whatever we do should be done in such a way “that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 4:11). In other words, not every good deed we perform has to be hidden. Nevertheless, we should do them in such a way that any praise that results is given to God rather than to us.
Worry about motivation must not, however, serve as an excuse for not performing good works. We can’t say that our motives may not be pure, so we won’t serve others until we know we aren’t doing them to seek praise. Developing pure motives is a lifelong task for most us anyway. Simply obeying Jesus’ command to perform good deeds is an important first step.
We are called to serve others in the name of our heavenly Father, without any excuse. The prophet Isaiah lists some of the things we are charged to do: “Share your bread…shelter the homeless…clothe the naked…” (Is 58). God is a God of love and compassion, and when we serve others for his sake, he is glorified, and we discover we receive our spiritual reward.
It’s easy to find the stewardship applications in today’s readings. Compassionate care of those in need requires gifts from our treasure and gifts of our talents in service. The gift of our time in prayer and worship is also called for, to develop our spiritual awareness that God’s glory, and not ours, should be the goal of our service. It’s only “the power of God” St. Paul mentions in the reading from 1 Cor 2 that enables us to do good, and to do it for God’s glory and not our own. But then, we’re called upon to make a difference, to be “the salt of the earth… the light of the world.”