The principle of 6:1 is now fleshed out for “almsgiving” — the Jewish practice of compassion on the poor and needy. After the Temple was destroyed, almsgiving was sometimes depicted as a replacement for sacrifices. The word for “almsgiving” in Hebrew is a near-equivalent to “righteousness”: the transition from 6:1 to 6:2 then is verbal as much as chronological. Jesus’ point: do not use acts of mercy to the needy as an opportunity to strengthen your reputation as pious. Our question today: what about us, what do we do that draws attention to our giving and what can we do to make our gifts more anonymous?
A couple of comments are in order: first, the “trumpets” expression (NIV: “do not announce it with trumpets”) could be a graphic metaphor (“don’t toot your giving horn”) or a reference to the sophar chests into which people tossed coins (they looked like a trumpet), permitting them to “bang the drum” as it were a little harder if they made lots of noise. There is no way to know which is more accurate, nor does it matter.
Second, Jesus attacks the “hypocrites” for the sort of behavior he’s against: they love to give in such a way that they are noticed. This term “hypocrisy” was important to Jesus, and I blogged on it earlier. It transcends a simple “fake them out” image and has to do with both conscious pretense and theological error. You can read that post to see its more complete sense. I agree with Dale Allison, and many others, in affirming that we need today to avoid using Jews as counter-examples of piety — why? because most of us don’t have a clue what is going on in Jewish worship and piety today. We’ve got plenty of examples within, and it is more to our benefit to work on the problems at home rather than to “other” others.
Third, Jesus uses yet another image: don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. A graphic image that implies intentional “cover-up” to protect anonymity.
Jesus, in other words, advocates intentional anonymity when it comes to giving. Do what you can, he is saying, to make sure others don’t know what you are giving. Discipline in this way will lead to a life that avoids “tooting the giving horn,”