“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “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. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4 ESV)
In Bonhoeffer’s comments on this portion of the Sermon on the Mount he focuses on the paradox between chapter 5, being the light of the world, and chapter 6, beware of desiring to be seen. It does seem to be a paradox. After all the commands Jesus has issued so far why does He issue this warning? Jesus knows us. We are Pharisees at heart. Jesus has just given us the structure of a new and superior religion. What He has commanded is extraordinary, but what an incredible community we could build if we focused on doing all these things. That would be missing the point because that would turn all that Jesus has said into just another form of self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is not discipleship because the focus is all wrong.
Here is how Bonhoeffer resolves the paradox:
The concept of discipleship itself provides the resolution. It is exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
There are many definitions of discipleship, and I think this is the best one I’ve read. I don’t know anyone who is exclusively committed to one thing or person. We would call that person a fanatic and even the fanatics we know have multiple loyalties. Yet, isn’t this what Jesus desires us to be when He commands us to love God with everything we are? Loving our neighbor, in this passage giving alms to the poor, becomes a simple and natural expression of our love for God. However, it is only simple if our exclusive allegiance is to Jesus.
As soon as I add another allegiance, then I must evaluate and make a choice. My right hand is immediately aware of what my left hand is doing and the temptation to make the left hand’s activity visible is real. For most of us the competing allegiances are positive things. I love my wife and my children, but my allegiance must not be to them.
This may take things off track, but I think it is related. My wife and I just started reading The Disciple-Making Parent: A Comprehensive Guidebook for Raising Your Children to Love and Follow Jesus Christ by Chap Bettis. In the second chapter, he points out that there is a tendency for parents and churches to become child-centered. We desperately need to become more Jesus-centered, not less. When having mature Christian children, especially so that we will be admired by all our Christian friends, is our goal, then we have displaced our exclusive allegiance to Jesus. We are no longer disciples and whatever praise we receive here is all that we will receive.
Love as the deed of simple obedience is death to the old self and the self’s discovery to exist now in the righteousness of Christ and in one’s brothers and sisters. Then the old self is no longer alive, but Christ is alive in the person. The love of Christ the Crucified, who leads the old self in us to death, is what lives in Christ’s follower. Disciples find themselves only in Christ and in their brothers and sisters. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.