“You are the light of the world… Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Mt 5:14; 16)
In our regular reading of Sacred Scripture we will come across some passages which appear to contradict each other. For example, today Jesus tells his disciples to show their good deeds to others, while at another time He commanded them to “take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them” (Mt 6:1). On the surface it appears that Jesus is instructing His disciples to do two opposite things. However Jesus never does anything only on the surface. His meaning always delves deeper.
The teachings of Jesus are not for the superficial or slothful but for those who through grace seek His greater understanding. Surface contradictions in Sacred Scripture should never pose any threat to the believer. In this case the Christian will come to see these passages from Matthew as two pieces clinging together in the same complete puzzle.
The teaching of Our Lord is always spiritual. In this case the two sayings each encourage us to have a proper spiritual intention. Thus, when we perform an act of charity do we intend that people see us or see God? Do we desire, even a little, to be in the spotlight or is our intent to shine the light upon God? Do we seek (even a little) to glorify ourselves or do we seek entirely to glorify God?
The answers to these questions are very important because what Jesus wants is not that we should hide our good deeds but that we should not perform them with the purpose of making ourselves look good to others. For instance, when a Christian posts a picture of himself on social media performing some charitable act does he do so for the purpose of making himself look good to others or for the exclusive purpose of glorifying God? Because this is a spiritual matter, this is an interior question which each Christian must answer within his own conscience. The answer to this question and the intention of the believer will determine if the Christian is walking on the path of Christ.
For this 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time we place on our parish bulletin cover a work by the 18th century English painter Thomas Gainsborough entitled, Charity Relieving Distress. Gainsborough painted in the Rococo and Academic styles progressing from portraits to landscape-portraits to far reaching country landscapes. The work we examine today is actually a bit of an oddity for its use of classical features and its classical appearance, uncharacteristic of the artist.
The importance of this work to us is the unassuming appearance of the woman offering charity to the poor. She is wholly engaged in the task, seemingly thinking nothing of herself. Gainsborough has even cornered her in by his architecture so that her charity is blocked from view on most sides. Only the man sitting on the steps who appears not poor (he has both basket and jug) can directly see her good deeds. This man peers at the woman without her knowing it as he is moved to admiration and contemplation over her humble and loving concern.
Let us perform charitable acts inspired by prayer and grace, and let us think only of glorifying God.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services