What the left hand knows

Jesus as stand-up comedian:
Matthew 6: Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others 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 honoured by others. Truly I tell you, 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.

Classic observational comedy. You see those guys? Aren’t they ridiculous? “Announce it with trumpets” is an arresting image, to get the audience going. I don’t think announcing with trumpets a wholly bad thing. I think of the Tate gallery, and its Clore galleries, and the Saatchi gallery, free to the public, and named after the Benefactors. I have spent time with Turners in the Clore gallery, and I am grateful.

And- I get the idea, the hypocrite giving not from the love in his heart,  or even the fear of damnation, but from the way it will look to others. Yet even he might be moved closer to the Kingdom of Heaven by his giving: he is admired by others for his generous act, and he might come to see the value of giving by itself.

Jesus exaggerates. Do not let your left hand know. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. The trouble is Christians making a rule of this. A quid for the collecting tin is Treasure in Heaven- oh bugger, Dave saw me, that one doesn’t count. Do not let the left hand know? Why ever not? Generosity for the joy of it, of achieving something, is treasure in a heaven which is here and now. It works unless you do it to work that.

As a Christian, I am tempted to find a reading for this passage which fits my own understanding of giving. It does not, really. Having a grand opening ceremony for the first Tate Gallery makes Jesus’ image of “announcing it with trumpets” scarcely an exaggeration, and yet I think it valuable. I don’t think secrecy a particular virtue. Generous acts may build a generous character, if done for the sake of the act and not how it makes me appear to others. Jesus said what Jesus said, which gets me thinking; what Jesus said does not think the world out for me.

4 thoughts on “What the left hand knows

  1. I see nothing wrong with giving publicly and generously. It inspires others to more humanity, shames those who say “I can’t afford it” and sets a good example for our kids. But, I suppose, if we do it simply to show off, that is what we might want to guard against. An act of generosity which remains anonymous has a special quality to it.

    Thank you for your amusing, enlightening posts, Clare, they really brighten my day. Have a good one!

    xxx 🙂


    • High praise.

      But- you study it yourself! Just because so many people use it for so many ridiculous purposes, the most ridiculous of which is to treat it as Inerrant Revelation, does not mean that bits are not worthwhile.


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