Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Ash Wednesday

GospelMatthew 6:1-6,16-18 

Jesus said to his disciples:
  ‘Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win men’s admiration. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
  ‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them; I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
  ‘When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.’

The Gospel for today give the three 'pillars of piety' - a pattern for a righteous (healthy) spiritual life that is fed through prayer, penance and good deeds.

The very saying of these words brings about a sense of the 'do-gooder' and the 'holier-than-thou' that we all quickly identify and seek to avoid. The sense of being 'pious' is often considered a poor spiritual trait. But surely it can't be?

Jesus identifies with this attitude immediately and comes straight down on the side of the ordinary person seeking to follow God's will and yet feeling, over and over again, that they have failed. Failed, because those who have put themselves in positions of authority have created  an aura of theatre and extravagant display that few 'ordinary people' are able to live up to.

Jesus tells them- it's not about what the world thinks or believes - so stop trying to impress the world.To be a hypocrite is to be an actor on a stage; exhibiting passions and actions for the sake of the impression that is made on the audience. Outside the theatre, hypocrisy could be contrasted with integrity - a truthfulness of thought, belief and action. The One you are trying to impress already knows you through and through.

There is only so much we can do 'in secret' if we are serving others. What we can do is focus only on those that we serve. Seeking and finding Jesus in others we enter into relationships that don't need admiration or justification from others.

The 'closet' (private room)  that Jesus invites us is a sanctuary, a treasure room. Who would display their treasure on a street corner or leave it where everyone could see? Who would choose to spend time with a precious. loved one in a meeting place surrounded by others?

As our relationship with God grows deeper, other needs fade. Love will encourage you to honour yourself; sacrifice will mean offering more to the relationship in joy; fasting allows us to acknowledge the true value of what we surround ourselves with and to measure it against God' s love.

It is our integrity of faith that Jesus asks us to consider; not the display on the outside - whether Sunday best or pentitential ashes. However we decide to journey through Lent - it is our heart that must lead the way.



Philomena Ewing said...

A great post. I can't help wondering about the clerical jostling for power and prestige that goes on in the "corridors of ecclesial power,
with so much triumphalism. You know I was not a fan of Benedict but it's clear he was a man of deep prayer and in these last days of his papacy he seems to be revealing so much more of himself that he was maybe afraid to show when he was holding the reins of power. Sigh...

Word in the Hand said...

Agreed Phil, I wonder if this is his reason for leaving. The concern now is for 'who next?'