Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.
Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he rasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
Jesus said to his disciples,"Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
"So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
We must live for God rather than to be seen by others; act silently rather than ostentatiously. At the same time, we cannot do without the good example of others. There is a great value in remembering God's deeds in the lives of his saints. If Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, or Jesus and Paul had performed all of their works in secret, the Scriptures would mainly consist of empty pages. Paradoxically, we stand in need of the visible example of others, to teach us to act secretly and humbly.
To need always to be seen and praised is neither psychologically nor spiritually healthy. Such people are fundamentally insecure, and grasp for crutches to hold onto. They are so taken up with themselves, telling their own story and seeking celebrity, that they have little time for others. In turn, others find it more and more difficult to relate to them, and so their friends drop off and keep their distance. So Jesus is offering very healthy advice when he says, "Do not blow a horn before you in synagogues and streets, looking for applause." He goes on to suggest, "In almsgiving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Keep your deeds of mercy secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you." He wants us to preserve both our own dignity and also that of others, whenever we help them, particularly with alms. One way, of course, is by giving anonymously, so nobody knows who did it except God "who sees in secret."
This principle is not denied by the prophets, even though some of their actions were spectacular, or very "high profile". Before leaving this earth, Elijah rolls up his mantle and divides the River Jordan for himself and disciple Elisha to walk dry shod to the other side. He keeps alive the ancestral faith that God is always with them, as when Moses separated the Red Sea and Joshua the River Jordan. Within the prophetic family, people acted generously, even lavishly, despite not being wealthy. They worked hard at manual labour and were always concerned for what they could do for others.
Today's gospel begins with Jesus saying, "Be careful not to parade your good deeds before others to attract their notice." Yet, a little earlier in the same sermon, Jesus appears to have said the very opposite of that, "Let you light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven." There seems to be a tension between both of these sayings. Yet, there is truth in both. We are not to hide the light of our faith, keeping it under a bushel. Rather, we are to publicly proclaim our faith, our relationship with the Lord, by the lives that we lead, by the deeds that we do.
On the other hand, we don't publicly proclaim our faith in order to attract notice, in order to draw attention to ourselves, to bring praise or glory on ourselves. Rather, our public living of our faith is with a view to bringing glory to God. Today's gospel invites us to ask, "Who is being honoured by my public living of my relationship with the Lord? Is it myself or is it God?" Another way of asking that question is, "Who is being served by my good deeds? Is it myself or is it the Lord?" The opening petitions of the Lord's Prayer points us in the right direction, "Hallowed by your name, your kingdom come."