Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:2)
There were 3 main signs of piety in Israel at the time of Jesus. These were: Alms giving, prayer and fasting and Jesus deals with all three in chapter 6. He of course was not looking for piety but hearts that reflected God’s character. Of course giving, praying and fasting are good things but Jesus was addressing what the Pharisees and religious leaders had twisted them into; something that deflected the glory from God.
The first thing we can notice from this passage is that Jesus says “When you give” not ‘if’. The assumption is that we will give to the needy. The bible is very clear about God’s heart for the poor, His heart towards them is demonstrated again and again. Talking about the poor person he commands;
You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ (Deuteronomy 15:10-11)
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. (Proverbs 19:17)
Jesus himself recognised the need to help the poor and admitted that all the time that mankind was remaining in sin the problem would not go away;
For the poor you always have with you (John 12:8)
The Pharisee’s were fully aware of the need to provide for the poor, but not from a godly heart to alleviate their suffering. No, it was another chance to demonstrate how pious they were.
There is no evidence that they actually blew a trumpet before putting money in the collection, that would be ridiculous, but you get the impression that they would have liked to have had a full marching band behind them, announcing their arrival, if they could have gotten away with it!
There is a theory that the collection boxes in the synagogue were shaped like a trumpet and the coins would swirl around before going in the box. You can imagine the Pharisees getting some rather large coins and throwing them in rather violently to make the maximum amount of noise.
Jesus then goes on to call them ‘hypocrites’ which is a very strong word. The word used for Hypocrite was actually an ‘actor’ playing a part. An actor is someone who pretends to be someone who they are not. Rather apt don’t you think? They were all about the show and external spectacle. Their hearts remained untouched and this was what Jesus was addressing.
Let’s finish this by bringing it closer to home. I can get very smug when I think about the Pharisees and how hypocritical they were. They were quite a caricature, but actually, sometimes, we can have a very similar attitude to theirs. It is very easy to pick out deficiencies in other people, but fail to see when we are being proud ourselves. Writing this has caused me to examine my own heart with regards my motivations. Why don’t you do the same?