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Hypocrisy is the pretense of having a noble virtue that the person does not possess. It involves a show or act rather than reality. The Greek origin of the term stems from theatrical acting. So, here it signifies taking the fake piety of a donor. Jesus used the term ‘hypocrites’ on different occasions. The following are examples: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites” (Mt 6:5). “You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first” (Mt 7:5), and “Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’” (Mt 15:7).

Since synagogues and streets were public places, the hypocrites distributed alms in front of crowds, brazenly ensuring that their generosity would not go unnoticed. The public admired the generosity of the contributors because almsgiving was considered a virtue.

Those who help others deserve a reward either from the public or from God. Since the intention of the hypocrites was human admiration, they got it fully here, with nothing more left to their merit in heaven. Jesus assured a reward for all humanitarian works in the name of God. If we do them only for human recognition, we might miss God’s reward in heaven. Jesus guarantees compensation for any unrecognized labor for the Lord and His people.

By using the proverb, “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Mt 6:3), Jesus recommended private charity and voluntary service, which are rewarding in that they come from God. It will also respect the privacy and dignity of the recipients. Traditionally, the right hand has a positive or spiritual element attached to it because we offer donations and charitable services mainly using the right hand. It is symbolic of power and help. The left hand was considered as self-centered. However, some people are left-handed. Though both hands are of the same body, this hyperbolic expression emphasizes the nobility of private giving, which is more pleasing to God than giving with pride and accompanied by publicity.

“Jewish tradition tells us that in the ancient Jerusalem Temple there was a room known as the Chamber of Secrets. Donors would go there to secretly make charitable donations and people from good families who had become impoverished would go there in secret to take the donations, to feed themselves and their loved ones” (https://www.wamc.org/commentary-opinion/2020-12-31/dan-ornstein-the-chamber-of-secrets). Thus, the Chamber of Secrets was for private giving and confidential receiving devoid of embarrassment. It is better to avoid giving for one’s own publicity than harming the dignity of the recipient. But the Pharisees and the Scribes had ignored such valuable Jewish practices and gave alms for their self-glory while degrading the poor.

Secret giving can be primarily for almsgiving or personal giving. There can be acts of mercy that might need public documentation, like supporting charitable organizations and institutions.

God the Father is omniscient and knows the secrets of our hearts (Ps 44:2) – “No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account” (Heb 4:13). So, God understands the good deeds done in secret and will reward the donor. That can be in this life (Ps 37:25; 41:1-4; 112:9) or in the life after. “Lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great” (Lk 6:35). Jesus expressed the reward in the afterlife in the words he would use at the last judgement (Mt 25:34-36). The best kind of charity is when the giver does not know who the beneficiary is, and the receiver does not know the donor. God, who knows the goodwill of the donor, will reward that person.

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