[Jesus said,]1 “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing 4 so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.
5 “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 6 But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.
Today’s scripture is one of the traditional texts for Ash Wednesday. I’ve always found it difficult, on the day of the year when we walk around wearing smudgy crosses on our foreheads, to try and square our actions with this reading.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the tradition of Ash Wednesday. I think it’s a good thing for me to have someone mark my forehead and remind me to “repent, and believe the gospel.”
And perhaps its this question of the whether the inside genuinely matches the outside that Jesus wants to leave us with anyway. Maybe the crosses on our heads just tend to help us see it more clearly.
That is the fundamental question of Lent: does what’s inside match what’s outside? Are we actually as kind as we pretend to be? As generous? As holy? Or are these things performative – acts we put on in order to convince others that we are “good people”?
Jesus’ words remind us that the things we do to impress humans are rewarded by humans. But for the faithful, it’s not about the rewards humans can give. It’s about seeking that which only God can give. God seeks to transform us from the inside out, not the other way around.
by Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
How do you think change happens in a life? Does it begin with the heart and work outward? Or do you think there’s an element of “fake it till you make it” present in most processes of change?
Prayer: Holy Jesus, we invite you into our hearts and lives again today. Be present in us, with us, and around us that we might be changed. Let us know your power to reshape us into your image, so that people might see your reflection in us. This is our prayer for Lent. Amen.
As We Begin Lent
For our Lent series this year, we’ll be using the Adam Hamilton book Luke: Jesus and the Outsiders, Outcasts, and Outlaws. At his website, you can find a 40-day reading plan to help you read through the Gospel of Luke during Lent. And join us for worship, in-person or online, at 9:00 & 10:30 every Sunday.