This is an interesting passage from Matthew. It would seem to suggest that one should banish all rewards or punishments from the idea of religion. If that were so it would be to suggest that injustice has the last word.
To eliminate all rewards and punishments is to say that God is neither justice or love. The poet AE Houseman wrote:
“Yonder, on the morning blink,
The sun is up, and so must I,
To wash and dress and eat and drink
And look at things and talk and think
And work, and God knows why.
And often have I washed and dressed,
And what’s to show for all my pain?
Let me lie abed and rest;
Ten thousand times I’ve done my best,
And all’s to do again.”
If there were no rewards or punishments then the poem’s view of life would be true. But that is not what Jesus is saying in this teaching.
When Jesus spoke of reward, He is saying that it is not material reward or material prosperity that a disciple should be seeking.
He is saying that a person who is always seeking a material reward is looking at God in terms of law, instead of love. A person who truly loves another as Jesus loves us, is a person who exhibits an altruistic love. A love without qualifications, or demands, or expectations of some form of payback or reward.
The first of Christian rewards is the satisfaction that one has done the right thing. The second reward is that when we are successful in doing God’s will, God will ask us to do even more for Him and our fellow man and woman. The third reward is that the person who does God’s will; that person grows closer to God.
And the final reward of doing Gods will is reflected in the last sentence of the Beatitudes. “Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in Heaven.”