Have you ever carried a Kazoo with you during the Christmas holidays? When you passed the red kettle collections, did you pull that metal horn out of your pocket and play a few blasts to draw notice as you dropped in your donation? Of course, you haven’t. In my musings this week, I began to wonder more and more about Jesus’ teaching about not drawing attention when one gives to the needy – that no one should “announce it with trumpets” (Matthew 6:2).
In Matthew chapter six, verses 2-18, Jesus points out three “acts of righteousness,” giving to the needy, prayer, and fasting. He then defines how a humble person gives, prays, and fasts and how a hypocrite shows off his giving, praying, and fasting “to be seen by men.” The word hypocrite comes from the Greek word “hypokrisis" and means “acting on the stage, pretense." The actors wore masks and pretended to be something they were not in real life.
In the writings of Jewish history, it doesn’t appear that any such habit of horn blowing before giving to the poor existed. The collection box in the temple had a complicated opening above twists and turns below, discouraging a thief reaching in and becoming charitable to self. Because of the twists and turns, the opening was called a “trumpet,” leaving some Bible scholars to believe Jesus referred to the way a person might toss in their coins, making a loud rattle, noticeable to others.
Other scholars said the word “trumpet” Jesus used could mean “jingle.” Making the coins in hand or bag or pocket, clank against each other, allowing others to know one was about to let loose of loose change. However, there was another ancient practice that Bible intellectuals think might be the cause of Jesus’ remarks.
Different sects of persons have taken vows of poverty for hundreds of years, and the various groups have adopted different ways of embracing their poverty. Some of the sects perform certain dances or whirls, and they have become known as whirling dervishes. Others took their vow of poverty to learn humility, and they carried a horn or trumpet so that when someone gave money to them (which they in turn gave to the poor), they could blow the trumpet giving attention to the giver, not the receiver.
Whatever Jesus’ intention or thinking as he taught humble giving, his warning remains clear: do not give so that others may see. I remember an event where a group performed, and afterwards a woman got up in front of the group, and waved a one hundred dollar bill and said she was giving that to the performers that day. She said they were wonderful and challenged others to match her gift.
Young, not especially spiritual, plus I didn’t have one hundred to give—even with all those strikes against me, I was highly embarrassed by her antics. I could be wrong, but it seemed to me that she only wanted attention for giving her big bill. I still find myself turning a shade of pink when thinking about the unease of the crowd after her announcement.
Okay, I know this reading audience is not the type to carry Kazoos or wave one hundred dollar bills around to announce giving. No doubt, we can all improve our secret giving. Here are some hints as to how it looks in everyday life:
In your home, replace the toilet tissue on the holder, even if it’s not your usual duty (who does this in your household?). Do another person’s chores, even if it’s not your task to take out the trash, cook the supper, or rake the yard. After sitting for a family photo and looking at proofs, choose the one where everyone else looks the best; don’t think about how you look.
Elaboration and pomp mix about as well with secret giving as water and oil. Giving is not a display for self, it is not a flourish to gain attention, and it is does not cause a big ballyhoo over personal charity.
Remember as we seek to live humbly that the modest person is happy to go unnoticed.
Hunger for Humility (11): “Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge” (Psalm 119:54).
Cathy Messecar welcomes comments at email@example.com