Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
Matthew 6:2, 5, 16
This statement from Jesus is repeated in the exact same words three times in chapter six of Matthew. When scripture repeats things, it is a point to pay attention to. For this statement to shine forth three times in short order is like a trumpet blast from God screaming "This is important!"
In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has just completed his strengthening of the law. His word ending chapter five is finally to love even ones enemies, closing with "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." So now we get warnings. we get these three warnings concerning piety.
The warnings consist in examining the reasons why we do the good things we do. Specifically, Jesus refers to almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Devout people do these things, but Jesus asks us to examine our motives -- why do we do these things? -- and cautions against improper goals. If one gives generously to various causes mostly to be seen and recognized as a generous giver by friends and colleagues, well, "you have your reward." Likewise, with prayer and fasting. If almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are just to impress each other, Jesus says it means noting to the Father. This is a very sobering assessment. How much of our faithfulness in our everyday walk of life is about our own reputation and desire to be well thought of by our neighbors? A good reputation and high standing in the community are not bad things, unless they become an idol -- the things that are the main drivers in our life. Once again, looking at oneself leads us all to ponder the question all the disciples will ask themselves: Is it I, Lord? Am I the betrayer?
Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are expected and are worthy practices which do bring reward. God has promised rewards and He is a generous giver even when we are not. People are helped, prayers are heard and answered, and doing without things that we and the world would ordinarily consider essential drives us to contemplate what is truly essential in our lives. Being able to hear a genuine "well done, good and faithful servant" from a family member, a community member, and ultimately, our Lord himself, is more than enough reward.
While issuing these cautionary statements about dangerous rewards, Jesus also gives helpful instructions. Considering almsgiving, 'Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is up to." Give in secret. The Father still sees this. No one else needs to know.
Likewise, with prayer. Not everybody needs to know the details of our personal prayers. The Father hears and will respond. Jesus also helpfully teaches us the Lord's Prayer in this section of Matthew.
When it comes to fasting, the same advice applies. No one else really needs to know you have given up chocolate for Lent. (Personally, I "gave up giving up" for Lent years ago ...) When it comes to Jesus, it's best just to give up and put full confidence in him alone. That is reward enough for all time.
Remember Whose you are,