< …for your own good >

Year in, year out, the gospel reading for Ash Wednesday – Catholic – is Matthew 6:1-6,16-18. There, Jesus outlines the terms and conditions applicable to having heaven reward piety, illustrated with almsgiving, fasting, and prayer. ‘When you give, don’t let as much as your left hand see what your right hand is doing’ – not to talk of a full human being; ‘When you pray, shut the door and do so in private’; ‘When you fast, don’t advertise it through gloomy looks’: these gestures are addressed to your heavenly father, and as such be known to him alone. Hence, human applause and admiration over them only serves to water down the graces they confer, the rewards they accrue.

Now, the problem is that many pious fellows fail to see the limit of the application of the above text, failing to realize those times when the rewards of certain actions, good deeds so to speak, are within the province of fellow human beings, and as such shouldn’t be done secretly or kept so, as human beings are incapable of seeing what was done in secret or knowing what’s been kept away from them. And should they not get to see or know about them, how then are they expected to reward you? Dear friend, we need all the wisdom to know when blowing our trumpet by ourselves is both right and just – and even a duty we owe ourselves.

Recall that fateful day when Saul fell into the hands of David. His men kept urging him to take advantage of the opportunity God had just given him to take out a king that was after his life with as many as 3,000 of the finest soldiers in Israel. And David refused, particularly on the grounds of not laying as much as a finger on the Lord’s anointed. What did David do next, I ask you? Keep it secret so that God who saw what happened in secret would reward him? Not at all! David knew enough that the reward he sought was in the king’s hand, to spare his life. And then he goes faraway, from where he announced to Saul what kindness he’d just shown him, how he refused to cash in on the opportunity he had moments earlier to slay him. Read 1 Sam 24 for the full gist; Saul even wept.

My point exactly: You need to be clear about the source of your reward per time. Know when it is God, and keep your deed secret, ensuring that the applause and admiration of fellow humans don’t rob you of your reward; know when it is fellow humans, and make it known to them – with discretion. If you do good to friends, siblings, spouse, colleagues, boss, neighbours, etc., be sure you make it known to them in some way – for the record. To them, not the general public, else your reward could also be watered down by their comments, applause, and admiration. Yes, I think people like to know what you’ve done for them so they can queue you up for Reward Day. And this reward comes in various shapes and sizes: upgrade your status, like you better, love you more, get you promoted, help advance your cause or move your ministry to the permanent site, forgive you more easily should you screw up in the future, speak graciously of you going forward, go all out to plead your cause, generously refer or recommend you, etc. Of course, cash is not exempt.

In these evil days, those who go out of their way to do good deserve some accolades – whether from God or fellow humans. Just know which counter to go cash your cheque; none deserves to bounce.

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