Matthew 5:13-16
To be Seen or not to be Seen?
by Rev. Steven G. Oetjen
Reprinted be permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

Jesus said to his disciples: "You are the salt of the earth.  But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?  It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  You are the light of the world.  A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house.  Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father."

Our Lord ells us today, "Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father" (Mt 5:16).  But in the very next chapter of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus will say, "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them" (Mt 6:1).  If you go to Mass on Ash Wednesday (in about two weeks), You will hear that our almsgiving, prayer and fasting should be done in secret, and thus we will be repaid by our Father who sees in secret (Mt 6:1-6, 1618).  We might be puzzled b the apparent contradiction.  should we perform good deeds to be seen or not be seen?  Yet Our Lord gives us both commands in the very same sermon, the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7).  Surely Christ did not forget what he commanded us just a chapter earlier, did he?

St. Augustine explains that the key to understanding both commands, and to obeying both, is to consider the intention of the human heart. It is one's intention that directs his heart; the intention is what the heart beholds when one acts.

So, the intention is the decisive thing here: Why are you dong the good deed?  What are you doing it for?  Is it to be seen by others so that they will think you are holy or so that they will do something good for you in return?  If so, then the deed is really done for your own advantage, and your real purpose is to glorify yourself.  Maybe the deed is objectively good, but the selfish intention spoils the goodness of the act overall.

Thus, as Our Lord teaches in Matthew 6, you have received your reward.  Your own self-aggrandizement and the praise of others is your reward, and it pales in comparison to the reward that the Father gives.

On the other hand, in Matthew 5, Jesus praises the person who does a good deed before others when it is done with the intention of giving glory to the Father, not in order to be seen by others and to win their esteem.  If you act in this way, your light shines before others so that they glorify the Father.

We are called to be that witness to others, but also to recognize that the light we shine isn't ours to begin with.  It is the light of Christ shining through us.  We can understand his command to us today, "You are the light of the world . . .  your light must shine before others," only when we understand first what he says elsewhere: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (Jn 8:12).

So, we see that these two sayings in Matthew 5 and Matthew 6, which seem contradictory, when properly understood are not contradictory at all. Each one responds to different temptation we may face.

The command from Matthew 6, "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them," responds to the temptations of pride and vainglory.  It calls us to check our motivations and to purify them.  Seek God's glory and not your own.

The command from today's Gospel in Matthew 5, however, responds to the temptations of fear and lethargy.  It is not easy to let the light we have been given shine in the world, because we sometimes fear standing out.  This is a call for us to step up.  Be that salt of the earth and light of the world which Christ has made us to be, overcoming both fear and lethargy.

Against this temptation of lethargy, St. Josemaria Escriva says: "There is one cast that we should be especially sorry about: that of Christians who could do more and don't.  Christians who could live all the consequences of their vocation as children of God, but refuse to do so through lack of generosity.  We are partly to blame, for the grace of faith has not been given us to hide but to share with other men (Cf. Mt 5:15-16).  We cannot forget that the happiness of these people, in this life and in the next, is at stake.  The Christian life is a divine wonder with immediate promises of satisfaction and serenity - but on condition that we know how to recognize the gift of God and be generous, not counting the cost."