All of us have secrets: secret thoughts, secret feelings, secret fears, hopes and desires. All of us know more about ourselves than we care to share with others. We allow others to think we have pure hearts, but we know that we harbor impure thoughts. We hope others will notice how unselfish we are, yet we know that selfishness still resides in us. We want people to see us as strong and courageous, but we know that often we are weak and afraid.
We live with secrets, all of us. We’re sometimes shocked when we learn something about a person that we never would have guessed, something that had been hidden from us. But the truth is that we will never fully know even the closest of our friends and companions. We are mysteries to each other, like icebergs of which we can see only the tip. And we are mysteries to ourselves. We will never fully understand why we think and act in the ways we do. Only God knows the secrets of our hearts.
Jesus often exposed the secrets of others. He perceived the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He discerned the true motives of the crowds that followed him. He saw into the hearts of his disciples. He knows our secrets. He knows that what we do on the outside does not always match up with what is going on within us. We may appear to be seeking God and trying to do what is right, and yet inwardly we are preoccupied with the impression we are making on other people. We may give the appearance of serving God, but it may not actually be God’s approval that we are seeking, or God’s purposes that we are trying to advance.
At the beginning of today’s Gospel reading there are some words of advice. Those words have to do with practices of Piety or devotion. “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.” (Mt. 6:1) This advice follows through the next few paragraphs which have to do with alms giving, prayer, and other practices of devotion and the reward for such practices.
From an early age I had been taught that some of the early chapters of the Gospel according to Matthew, 5 through 7, are known as the Sermon on the Mount. Those words give to us some of the basic teachings of Jesus from early in his ministry. The teachings in today’s Gospel Reading are those which have to do with familiar practices of piety and worship and the rewards related with them
II Cor. 9:6-11 and Matt. 6:1-6, 16-18
Yesterday one of the students in the class I am teaching this week raised the question of whether we should strive to be happy. Is happiness something we should desire, something we should seek? Is it selfish to want to be happy?
We live in a culture that constantly encourages us to seek our own happiness, and which bombards us with images of what happiness looks like. Smiling, care-free people show us how happy we will be when we own this shiny new car, when we wear this expensive jewelry, when we visit this exotic vacation spot, when we try this new medication, when we open this refreshing can of soda!