Inconspicuous Piety and Communal Differentiation in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

The three practices discussed in Matt 6:1-6, 16-18 represented conventional acts of piety within the author’s dominant cultural environment. An underlying assumption of the passage is that the meaning of these practices is not fixed or self-evident, but is subject to re-interpretation depending on the intentionality that informs them. In concert with his sectarian outlook, Matthew’s objective is not for his community to develop new cultic practices but for it to reconceptualize received practices and thereby invest them with new meaning. Toward this end, the imagery of the passage invites the readers to envision their practices as performances, that is, to envision them in terms of the audience for whom they are intended. The possibilities in this regard are laid out contrastively. The audience presented negatively corresponds with the dominant cultural frame, “the people” of the synagogue and the community. The readers are not to put their practices on display in order to be evaluated and recognized by this audience in accordance with prevailing norms of social meaning and status acquisition. Put differently, these practices are not to be performed as acts of enculturation, as acts that socialize the readers into the dominant culture and its forms of subjectivity. Instead, the performing self is to withdraw from socially authorized venues into an alternative “space,” an antithetically constructed referential arena operating according to a restricted and re-ordered matrix of meaningful relationships. This does not occur as a physical act, however, but as an act of the intention. Insofar as they orient their intentionality so as to eschew the enculturating function of these practices, thereby rejecting prevailing modes of socialization, the readers can now conceive of these performances as moments in the development of a resistant self, an alternative subjectivity that is “rehearsed” in an alternative performance space.