"So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet…" (Matthew 6)
When I was a boy attending a Baptist Church–in small town Saskatchewan–the yearly giving amount of every adult male was published and posted at the back of the church. By my recollection, by the time I was a teen the practise had ceased, but I have some reason to believe that it was the cause of wounds and hurt for years to come.
I’m guessing, but I suppose that some zealous treasurer got it in his head, and convinced the deacons, that it would keep people giving. Perhaps it did. My family was poor and my dad’s name was three quarters down the page. Still more than a faithful accomplishment.
Thing is, if I had had the means, I would have loved seeing my name surface near the top of the register; and I would have relished watching the faces scan the annual posting. I would have given alms just because I knew the "trumpet" was going to be sounded for me.
In my weak moments, which come often enough, when I give I want others to know. And same principle–when I’ve screwed up, or when I’m being miserly, I hide as best I can. When I’ve made something I think is good, or done something commendable, my poor heart can hardly stand not having at least a few people know.
But is this really wretched? If it is, why? Why is it wrong? What harm does it do? Why are we warned against it?
Here’s what I think: Jesus was probably sad for having to give the instruction. Because he wasn’t against celebrating the goodness of good deeds done, and praising the people who did them. What he was aware of is the nature of human desire and how this desire is related to human rivalry and violence.
If it was the case that our "selves" were not formed through contention and competition, no admonition would be necessary. We could all hear that trumpet sound as a call to come celebrate. If our desires were free from distortion, our trumpets would be blown with the innocence of a child who runs to her mother clutching a page full of crayon scribbled sky with a sun beaming down on a stick figure in a triangle dress.
What parent would tell this child to stop "practising her piety in front of others," or to stay in her room and draw "in secret?"
No, the reason for Jesus’ provisional warning here is because our desires are skewed and we aren’t innocent and until we begin moving in that direction, we need ways to contain the demeaning provocation and generation of envy, ways to circumvent any rivalrous response, and to negate wounds and harm.
But mercifully and joyously, it is the case that we can be re-tuned and renewed. We can–all too slowly of course–gain the eyes and ears of a child. We can enter a second naivetÃ© where when someone else’s talent shines like a star it will create in us delight, not envy. Where blowing ones horn has not one ounce of meaning.