Jesus continues to teach about true righteousness, a righteousness that goes beyond mere obedience. He first discusses three basic acts of piety in first-century Judaism: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting (verses 1-18). Then he teaches us where we will find our treasure (verses 19-23), and he teaches that we ought to serve God without taking thought for ourselves (verses 24-34).
Verses 1-4: In verse 1, the Greek word translated “to be seen” is a word related to the theater. We might loosely translate it “to be a spectacle.” In verse 2, the word translated “hypocrites” could also be translated “actor” in other circumstances. (See Robert C’s already mentioned post on “hypocrite” and the comments that follow for more discussion.) What is Matthew emphasizing by using these words to tell us Jesus’ teaching? What does he mean when he says that those who give in public “have their reward”? It is easy to condemn those whom Jesus describes in verses 1 and 2, but how difficult is it to live the teachings of verses 3 and 4? In other words, how tempting is it, when we do good, to tell someone, to get our reward from other people’s recognition of our good deed? What does that difficulty tell us about us? Some may see a conflict between the doctrine taught in these verses and that taught in Matthew 5:13-16. How would you reconcile that seeming conflict?