Written for Third Presbyterian Church January 15, 2023
I’m going to read a different version of the scripture than Kyle read today and I’m going to add the Karie annotations.
Matthew 6:1-4 CEB Showy religion
6 “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion (other translations say righteousness or piety, we might also include words like spirituality) in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Whenever you give to the poor, (when not if) don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get.
Jesus assumes that part of practicing our religion or living out our faith is going to include giving to the poor. It was a safe assumption because Jesus and his followers are Jewish and giving to the poor was already a way that they practiced their faith.
There is some debate if there was an offering container that made noise at the synagogue, or if giving was announced, but it’s more likely that this is just hyperbole about not making a big show of what you are giving whether it is part of visiting the synagogue or something you do in a public place.
3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing 4 so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.
Again, this isn’t about a slight of hand magic trick, or something that can actually be accomplished, but to say that keeping giving secret is important. Jesus says a couple of times that there is a reward and it’s either from people or from God. If Jesus was a “get to the point” kind of guy, which he’s not, but if he was, he might ask, are you buying people’s attention or are you giving to God?
It’s very clear that those who make a big show have received their reward, so in these cases, the reward is attention or status or prestige or something like that. We’ve seen examples of people showing off to impress other people, and probably those people have grabbed our attention too. Maybe we are a little jealous of them, maybe we are annoyed by their attention seeking, maybe we admire them. Their reward comes from our reaction. And if we’re being honest, we have done things for attention too. It feels good to have positive attention. It’s interesting that Jesus has made it sound like that is the lesser of the rewards. The reward from God will be better than the attention we receive.
So, what is the reward for giving to the poor in secret? How will we know that we have actually accomplished keeping our actions secret? And if I talk about it in a sermon, spilling my secrets, will I lose my reward? That’s the thing about keeping secrets, you can’t talk about the reward of keeping the secret either.
The only way to share a secret with everyone but not with anyone is in theater or in movies. The secret is known only to the viewing audience. So, I’m going to tell you about the 2014 movie, Maleficent. It’s retelling of the 1959 Disney fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty. The story is told from the villain’s perspective, or should I say, the person we thought was the villain. We meet Maleficent when she is a young fairy. She has strong wings that can send her soaring and they are so big they trail behind her when she walks. Even at her young age, she is the protector and caretaker of the other fairies. She is fun, and sweet, and loving. She is strong and wise and has many great leadership qualities.
One day, a boy from the nearby village enters the moors and steals a crystal. Maleficent demands he return it. He does. They are curious about each other. He is the first human she has ever met, and he is struck by how human she appears, except for the wings and the horns. They strike up a friendship that lasts for years and one day, Stephen gives Maleficent what he calls true love’s kiss. But then his visits to the moors become less and less frequent. He is drawn into the ways of men and his ambition keeps him busy as he works his way up the social ladder. The audience finds out that the king has proclaimed that whoever kills Maleficent will be his successor. The king wanted Maleficent dead because he wanted to take the land from the fairies to expand his kingdom. He had tried and failed because Maleficent is a powerful protector and her magic and battle tactics have prevailed over his attempts to take over the land.
Stephan decides to find Maleficent again after all these years. At first, she is a little cold towards him, but they rekindle their friendship and the years that have passed between them melt away as the sun sets. They are watching the stars together when Stephan offers her a drink. She falls into a deep sleep. Stephan is unable to bring himself to kill her, so he cuts off her wings. When she wakes up Stephan is already at the castle, but he can hear her screams of pain. He presents the wings to the king and is named as the king’s successor and marries the king’s daughter. The king dies, Stephan becomes king, and he has a daughter, Aurora. Everyone is invited to the christening, and this is the famous scene we know with the curse that Maleficent speaks over the baby. She will fall into a death like sleep after pricking her finger on a spinning wheel on her 16th birthday and only true love’s kiss will wake her.
Three fairies hide the baby in a cottage in the woods and raise her. Well, hide is a strong word, and they don’t have the first clue of how to care for a human baby. Maleficent secretly watches their every move. After all, she has been taking care of all of the fairies including these three whose names I don’t remember but we could call them Silly, Flaky, and Distracted. These three twits tried to feed the baby whole carrots and radishes. Maleficent comes through with baby formula for the child she calls, Beastie. At first it seems that she only feeds the baby to stop the screaming, but Maleficent continues to intervene to keep the little Beastie alive every time the absent-minded fairies fail as guardians. Eventually, Maleficent grows fond of the girl and tires to take back the curse, but she can’t undo it.
On Aurora’s 16th Birthday the fairies are trying to remember if they are supposed to return her on her birthday or the day after. While they are fighting Aurora meets prince Philip who is lost in the woods and gives him directions to the castle. They have an awkward encounter and are clearly taken by each other but it’s clear to the audience that this isn’t love at first sight. The fairies eventually decide to take Aurora to meet her father Stephan, the king on her birthday. At this point in the movie, it’s clear the king has lost his mind, but just to drive the point home, he is angry when Aurora returns a day early and has her and the fairies removed from his presence. Of course, Aurora finds a spinning wheel, pricks her finger, and falls into the death like sleep. The fairies find prince Philip and he gives her the creepiest kiss anyone has ever seen. And no surprise, it doesn’t work. The idiot fairies usher him out of the room and go search for other good-looking men in hopes of finding Aurora’s true love.
This is when Maleficent steps out of the shadows and approaches Aurora. She pours out her story of love and loss and how she is so sorry that in her anger she cursed an innocent child and how she wants nothing more than to take it all back. She cries. The audience cries. She wipes her tears and gently kisses Aurora on the forehead. The audience is bawling. Aurora wakes up.
This is the part that connects with our scripture.
Of course, Phillip gets credit for being the true love, and his reward is the accolades of the entire kingdom. But Maleficent who in secret gave everything she could to the poor child is the one who is rewarded beyond measure. The reward is love. Maleficent knows exactly what true love feels like. And there is nothing greater than love.
I think Jesus was talking about love too. When we live out our faith, when we give without thought of reciprocation or reward, (selflessly not selfishly like Sarah said during children’s time) when we give without showing off or making a big production, when our piety is done in secret, our reward is love. When we live out our faith as an expression of our love of God, our reward is knowing what true love is like. And there is nothing greater than love.