Jesus opposed ostentatious piety. Tell that to your friends and also to yourself. And he was not fooled by the counterfeit. In Matthew 6, he developed these important ideas.
Our Lord called for giving that is not ostentatious. The ancient practice of almsgiving (giving offerings) is rooted in the Old Testament and commanded by God to financially support the Temple and the needy. “Almsgiving stood first in the catalogue of good works . . . it was the most sacred of all religious duties . . . in fact the Jews interchanged the same word for either righteousness and almsgiving . . . to give alms and to be righteous (therefore) were one and the same thing . . . to give alms was to gain merit in the sight of God.”
Jesus exposes the Pharisees as giving to the needy in order to be recognized by others as great philanthropists. The Pharisees when giving to the needy may have had a trumpeter precede them, supposedly to call all the charitable citizens to contribute to an urgent need. The trumpet grabbed attention and soon came to be an announcement and recognition of some philanthropist. This custom gave rise to public recognition and receiving outward praise.
Jesus says do not give in this way (v. 12) as the hypocrites do. No one should ever think that Jesus never judges, condemns, or publicly accuses of hypocrisy. He does so here. He is no un-discerning One who cannot judge right from wrong, who only affirms all people. He calls such self-glorified givers “hypocrites.” The classical Greek word – and it is a strong one – for hypocrite refers to an actor in a stage production. A hypocrite was one who in the Greek theater put on a mask and played another role. Everyone knew this was the same person, but as a stage convenience he assumed another personality. That’s what a hypocrite is, one who acts one way in one role, but completely different in another. One is not merely a hypocrite if he says he intends to do something for God and then fails. That person is merely a sinner. But a hypocrite is one who says one thing and then in a later context plays the opposite role.
So the hypocrite in view here, does not really want to help the needy. His philanthropy is motivated by self-serving interests, and he just wants to help himself and his reputation in the community. This type of hypocrite is like:
– The politician who says he is supportive of a minority group just to get votes;
– The pastor who placates the powerful just to keep his job;
– The giver in the church who wants to be recognized as the patron-boss of the congregation. When we give in order to be honored on the streets or in the synagogues (this includes both religious and civic charity), then we are guilty of the hypocrisy of modern day Pharisaism.