"You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16)
"Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:1-4)
You'd be forgiven if you're confused at this point. Are Christians meant to broadcast their good deeds, like a lamp on a stand, or give in secret, so as not to show off their righteousness before others?
A new app seems to advocate for the former. To celebrate the Pope's 79th birthday in December, the Polish Church created a free app to help Catholics log their good deeds online. Functioning as a news feed similar to Facebook, users post a description of their 'works of mercy' – either spiritual or corporal – and add a photo and a few hashtags. They then promise to either do the deed, or pray about it, and once it's posted to their 'wall', others are invited to do the same. It's designed to encourage, and challenge, one another in living out the Christian faith.
"It is our answer to what I should do as a... simple person, what I can do for other people," Father Józef Kloch told Vatican Radio.
"What is very interesting about this application is interaction. It means I can write what I will do in this week, how I can be 'misericors': How I can be good for other people."
It's all quite sweet, really. Scroll through the feed and you'll see people around the world promising to do everything from praying for the persecuted Church to feeding their neighbour's hungry cat. Some pledges are slightly more odd; burying the dead, or "instructing the ignorant", but then it was originally written in Polish, so some nuances may have been lost in translation.
What remains to work out, however, is whether we're in need of such an app at all. If Christians are meant to give to the needy in secret – is the Misericors app just a way to show off, like the Pharisees who were so clearly admonished by Jesus for doing so? Do we really need to take a photo every time we donate to a food bank, or "start talking to someone with a bad reputation"?
To me, it comes across as a little self-indulgent – not to mention time consuming – and the context of the above passages gives us an idea of what Jesus actually meant.
When he tells the disciples they are "the light of the world", it's in the context of the beatitudes. Jesus is talking about how Christians should live in the light of his coming, and promising to make all things new. When he urges his disciples to let their light shine before others, he's calling them to live out in the world – not shy away from it. To loosen the chains of injustice, share their food with the hungry and clothe the naked. But here's the catch: to "glorify your Father in heaven". Not to point out how good they are, or add a star to their 'faithful Christian' chart. But to point to God and His goodness.
So when he later says, "be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them", this isn't a contradiction at all. Jesus is saying our good deeds need to come from a place of love for him – "we love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19) – not because we want to be seen by other people to be doing the right thing. We don't earn our way to heaven by clocking up brownie points, but we are called to live generously, and in a way that speaks of God' abundance and grace to those around us.