Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in Heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly (Matthew, 6: 1-4).
When He was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. And behold, there came a leper and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth His hand and touched him, saying, I will: Be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for the testimony unto them (Matthew, 8:1-4).
There is great merit in doing good without ostentation. But it is of even greater merit to hide the hand that gives. This is the indisputable mark of great moral superiority, since in order to regard things from a higher level than the multitude it is necessary to be able to disregard the present life, and identify oneself with the future. In a word, to place oneself above humanity so as to be able to renounce the satisfaction that comes from the recognition of one’s fellow creatures, and await the approval of God. Those who prefer the approval of mankind prove they put more faith in them than in God, and value the present life more than the future one. If they say anything to the contrary, then they act as if they do not believe in what they themselves are saying.
How many there are who only give with the expectancy that the one who has received will shout it to all sides! How many there are who publicly give large sums of money, but who nevertheless would not give a penny if the fact were to be hidden! This is why Jesus declared: “Those who do good ostensibly have already received their recompense.” Indeed, those who seek their glorification on Earth through the good they do, have already paid themselves; God owes them nothing more; the only thing left is punishment for their pride.
Let not your right hand know what your left hand does is an image which admirably characterizes modest beneficence. But if there is true modesty, then there is also false modesty, a mere imitation of modesty. There are certain people who hide the hand that gives, but take great care to leave a small piece showing while they look about them to see if anyone has seen them trying to hide it. This is shameful, a parody of Christ’s maxim! If prideful benefactors are despised by mankind, what then must they be before God? These too have already received their recompense on Earth. They are seen and are satisfied by this fact. That is all they will have.
So then, what recompense will there be for the person who causes their benefits to weigh heavily on the shoulders of the receiver; who demands at all costs recognition for the recompense; who makes their position felt by extolling the cost of the sacrifice they have made? Oh! Here there is not even earthly recompense, seeing that this person finds themself deprived of the pleasing satisfaction of hearing their name blessed. This is the first punishment for their pride. The tears they dried in benefit of their own pride, instead of rising to Heaven will fall back upon the afflicted heart and cause it to ulcerate. For the good that was practised there will be no reward because it was deplored, and all benefit that is deplored is counterfeit and so has no value.
When beneficence is practised without ostentation it is doubly meritorious. Apart from material charity there is also moral charity, seeing that this protects the susceptibility of the beneficiary, so enabling them to receive a benefit without feeling resentment from a loss of self-respect. This safeguards human dignity, since there are those who will accept a job but refuse alms. Now depending on the manner in which it is done, converting work into alms can mean humiliating the receiver, and there is always pride and evil in the act of humiliating another. On the other hand, true charity is delicate and inventive in disguising a benefit, avoiding even a simple appearance which might cause hurt, given that all moral friction increases suffering originating from necessity. Therefore the giver of true charity will find tender affectionate words which will place the receiver at ease, especially in the presence of the benefactor, whereas prideful charity will crush the receiver. Real generosity acquires total sublimity when the benefactor, inverting the parts, finds a way of placing themself in the position of being the one who is indebted when facing the person whom they are helping. This is what is meant by the words: Let not your left hand know what your right hand does.
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