RIGHT HAND, LEFT HAND
Jesus was very amusing in some of his parables. Do you remember the little story of the hypocrite going to the temple to toss his contribution into the alms box, and employing a trumpeter to go ahead, so as to draw public attention to his generosity? (Matthew 6:1-4.) Or maybe he blows his own trumpet, crying "Look at me, everybody! See how I am giving to the poor and needy!" It is, of course, a satire. Yet, though we smile at it, as I am sure our Lord's hearers did when he first told the story, we are probably none of us exempt from a sneaking desire to have our good deeds brought to public notice. This weakness of human nature is played upon by those responsible for collecting money for charitable projects, and even those who need support for church work; they know they can get far better results if they publish the names of the givers. The minister puts a note in the church bulletin, thanking Mr So-and-So for mending the Bibles in the Sunday School, and Mrs So-and-So for arranging the flowers so beautifully. A business magnate is promised that if he gives a large enough contribution to the hospital a new ward will be named after him. Isn't this so?
Not many of us are quite as crude as this in our giving; perhaps we have not enough to give to make a worth-while splash! Or it could be that in our culture boasting is despised—it is counter-productive. Often, indeed, we give anonymously. Yet the feeling is there, lurking in the background: "What's the use of giving to charity, or doing anything unselfish, if nobody knows of it? How will it benefit ME? What reward will I get, if I do these good deeds in secret?" Our motive, you see, is only partly to help the poor and needy, or support the church or the hospital or whatever; primarily we want a reward for ourselves, here and now, in the form of acknowledgment, thanks and praise.
"Well," says Jesus, "truly you will have your reward." But you may find it rather disappointing when you get it. It is nice to be thought well of by other people; but if your desire for their approval was the principal motive behind your good action, the pleasure you derive from it will very soon pall. You will need more and more admiration to produce the same degree of satisfaction; and if you fail to get enough gratitude, honour and praise, you will feel frustrated and angry. Although you would be ashamed to admit it, you find yourself bitterly hating those who fail to admire and applaud you enough to satisfy your expanding ego. The drink you ordered becomes less and less sweet, and moreover it makes everything else taste sour. That is the reward you sought, but it is unsatisfying when you get it; and, having it, you find yourself progressively incapable of receiving any other kind of reward or satisfaction or joy.
Jesus went further and said we are not only to give our alms in secret as far as other people are concerned, but we are actually to prevent our left hand from knowing what our right hand is doing! Why the left and right? What do they signify? Well, whatever they do signify, it is evident from our study of the Gospels that Jesus preferred the right hand to the left! Remember how, in the parable of the sheep and goats, the king said to those on his right hand, "Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;" whereas to those on his left hand he said, "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matthew 25: 31-46.) And after his resurrection Jesus told his disciples on the Sea of Galilee to "cast the net on the right-hand side of the ship," in order to catch an enormous number of fish. (John 21:6.) Evidently the right-hand side is the side of love and genuine concern for others. We offer our friends "the right hand of Christian fellowship;" and in all our actions of love and service the right hand should take the initiative and do the deed.
The left hand? Is it always bad? Of course not! It is bad only when it is given preference over the right hand. This has nothing whatever to do with people who are right-handed or left-handed; it is a question of spiritual symbolism, where the right hand represents love, and the left hand represents the thinking or calculating side of our nature, that part of our mind which considers expedience. In other words, the right hand is charity and the left hand is faith. In most of our projects we need both hands working together. Even in our worship we need both faith and charity. But the love element must always be dominant, the faith element being active but taking a secondary role. Too often in our churches the order is reversed: a correct belief is considered of more importance than a loving heart. "Faith Alone" is the great killer; it kills charity, as Cain killed Abel. Therefore, in this parable Jesus exaggerated a little in the other direction to restore the balance. "Let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing."
Consider briefly what generally happens when the left hand is allowed to monitor the generous impulses of the right hand. In all matters of giving oneself out to others, the right hand is prepared to be outgoing and generous, but the left hand argues for self-interest. "Wait a minute!" it warns. "Think before you act! What are you going to get out of this? Don't become involved unless you can see some benefit. Are you really called upon to expend yourself? Is it actually needed, or wanted? Of course, if it improves your image with other people—if it is good for business—carry on; otherwise, why bother?"
Arguments from the left hand are useful, even necessary, in the ordinary affairs of life. The left hand guides the right hand; it works against it, causing a creative tension. Business concerns are dominated by those canny calculations of profit and loss. But the left hand must not be allowed to interfere in our spiritual life. Its arguments are a stumbling block to progress towards the Kingdom of Heaven. They implant germs of doubt in our minds which stifle our holiest endeavours. Better not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing!
Self-seeking motivation can corrupt the most innocent activities. Church-going people are usually pleasant to one another, and may appear to be doing good in a hundred different ways. No one, except the Lord himself, can tell whether their pleasantness and their charitable actions are genuine, or whether these charming folk are being "people pleasers" merely because it makes them feel superior, good Christian men and women. They like a nice pleasant atmosphere, all smiles and politeness, and so they pour out love and consideration for others; yet behind it all, if you only knew it, there might be contempt and jealousy and real hatred. The hypocrisy of polite society is not so easy to recognize as the hypocrisy of blowing one's own trumpet, but it can be even more destructive because it is deeper down. Just as we may have good motives for seemingly evil actions, so we may have selfish motives for seemingly good actions. Not even our best friends or our married partners can know what is really going on inside us; only the Lord sees into the hidden reaches of the heart. And it is there within us that he rewards us if our motives are pure. Even though the world may misjudge and condemn us, we shall be inwardly happy if we are unselfish in our love to him and our neighbour.
Jesus promised that those who do good in secret will be rewarded openly. This must be understood as a long-term commitment on his part. It is only when we die and enter the eternal world that the final balance-sheet will be drawn up. Then, "that which was covered will be revealed; what was hidden will be made known; what was heard in the ear will be proclaimed upon the housetop." What? Is it going to be like the denouement of an old-fashioned drama? Will the Father say, "Son, you didn't get your due while you were in the world, so I'm going to make it up to you now!" No, it won't be like that at all. A reward of this nature could be just as unsatisfactory as the boosted ego of the trumpet-blower on earth. Heavenly joy is something different altogether. It cannot be received at all by anyone who is not in tune with the heavenly life. But for those who can receive it, this joy is a hundred times more delicious than anything experienced in our coarse physical frame. Listen! The joy of heaven begins with a man when he wills and does good to his neighbour without any thought of reward or even acknowledgment.
That makes you think, doesn't it? Would it be joy to you? It would not be joy at all to a man who is spiritually left-handed. "Absurd!" he would say. "What would be the point of such behaviour?" Well, if that is your inner feeling, there will be no reward waiting for you after death. You will have had it (such as it is) already. But, if you are spiritually right-handed, and the joy of heaven is joy to you, then what a wonderful time you will have in the life to come! What opportunities for creative work and selfless service! What satisfaction and fulfilment! The Lord will indeed reward you openly.
Let me shake you by the right hand!