This portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount describes how we are to go about the essential disciplines of discipleship—almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Jesus uses the words “in secret.” A more contemporary understanding for us today might be “unselfconsciously.”
We are naturally self-conscious, and this quality is easily exploited. Many of us have lately begun to experience what is being called “Zoom fatigue,” the wearing down of our psyches that is the side-effect of an otherwise amazing technology. Notice where your attention strays while on Zoom: your own image. Irresistibly, tiresomely . One of the elements of the Zoom experience, shared by much social media, is the way it plays into our awareness of being seen by others. Our need for recognition, the importance we place on public image, the prevalence of “sharing,” the power of “likes”—all of these form us as human beings, no matter our age. Jesus is teaching us in this passage about something deeper, truer, more valuable—being seen only by the Father. “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” “Go into your room and shut the door.”
The deep work of transformation that occurs within and among us is mostly hidden from our view and our awareness. This is difficult for us to live with in contemporary culture, which values documentation, verification, commodification. Jesus doesn’t have much (that is good) to say about such things. Our life in Christ exists apart from them.
For a few moments, resist looking at yourself (outer or inner) and look at Jesus as he is depicted here by Leonardo in a study detail for “The Last Supper.” He is so at home with himself, in his life in God and among those he loves. His whole being seems to rest “in secret” with the Father. If you look at him long enough, and release your sense of self, you might feel that “secret” life.
The Holy Gospel Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
"Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
The Head of Christ
Leonardo Di Vinci c. 1495
Pencil, wash on paper
Palazzo Brera, Milan, Italy