Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret. God who sees what you do in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6:1-4
There are a lot of things happening in this passage. First, financial generosity is equated with religion. So, in some capacity, Jesus expected that the doing of faith would involve the giving of money, in addition to time and talent.
Second, one’s own giving should be generous enough that one might be tempted to tell others but instead must keep it secret. If you were ashamed of what you were giving, Jesus wouldn’t need to warn about secrecy since we don’t often shout about our embarrassing bits.
Thirdly, financial giving is for the sake of the poor. While Jesus says elsewhere that the “poor will always be with you”, his meaning is that giving to the poor is not a convenient reason to avoid other justice work. One can work to feed people and also work to convey dignity and opportunity on a larger scale. Whether or not people take advantage of that work is not our business.
Lastly, Jesus indicates that there is a reward for appropriate generosity. What kind of reward? Who can say, but it will come from God. This is both incentive and reminder. We cannot use our generosity in fiscal stewardship to manipulate God (if I give this, then You do this…). We are managing what has always (and still) belonged to God’s own self.
We are given the gift of caring for others and God’s whole creation through our baptism. Our financial stewardship is of a piece with that gift and call. Let us be diligent together, even in private, about our generosity with what God has given us.