Your Father who sees in secret – Wednesday Gospel reflection
I once saw a shop sign with a picture of Jesus and the caption: ‘I’m watching you.’ Perhaps some potential thieves were put off when their piety was pricked in this way. But what an abuse to turn God into some kind of celestial CCTV!
Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that our Father sees in secret. This is true: God is omniscient, nothing is beyond his sight or knowledge. As the Psalm says, ‘O Lord, you search me and you know me, you know my resting and my rising, you discern my purpose from afar. You mark when I walk or lie down, all my ways lie open to you’ (Ps. 138:1-3).
Is this a kind of gold-fish bowl captivity? Is God a totalitarian all-seeing tyrant, like the Eye of Sauron or Big Brother? If this is how we think, our picture of God is seriously flawed. We need a better picture of God: he is not Big Brother, he is our loving Father in heaven. If God is the ‘hound of heaven‘, returning to that theme from Psalm 138, we know that he pursues us for our own good.
The ostentatious Pharisees parade their piety in the streets and places of worship. Their problem is not so much a distorted picture of God as a tyrannical Big Brother. Instead, it seems as though they forget about God entirely: they have a narrowed perspective that looks principally for the admiration of other people. And in seeking a response from others, they show that they truly only love themselves. If self-love is all they seek, then of course ‘they have their reward’. When we seek the wrong things, we often get them, but that’s only to our own detriment. God has made us for the good, so we will never be satisfied without God.
God can never be a tyrant over us, for the simple reason that he loves us. God is not merely watching us: he is watching over us. Jesus has just said that ‘your heavenly Father is perfect’, and tells us to be perfect too (Mt 5:48). Now that perfection consists in love, for ‘God is love’ (1 Jn 4:8). True piety, then, is an expression of our love, not a self-centred seeking of attention, but the humble dedication to good works, such as prayer, fasting and almsgiving. As the Dominican brother, St Martin de Porres, prayed: ‘Lord, make me humble and useful like a broom behind the door.’
Today’s Gospel reading is Matthew 6:1-6,16-18.