“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.” – Matthew 6:1
It is a bit ironic that we read a passage about the need to keep our piety to ourselves on a day in which we as a church adorn our foreheads with ashes for all the world to see. But the ashes we wear are not a mark of our piety, but of our humility and even more importantly to remind us that we are all one. We are all the same.
This passage in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel is not specifically about Lent, but the church has chosen to read it on Ash Wednesday to help us set a very important tone to our Lenten observance. We are reminded that Lent is a very spiritual but also a very personal time. Lent is a time for us to spend some quality one-on-one time with our God. God is inviting us through our actions of prayer, fasting, and service to do some hard work on our personal relationship with Him.
We are also reminded that Lent is a great time of temptation for us as well. Lent provides us many opportunities to seek others’ approval though our commitment to fasting (giving something up), attendance at regular services throughout the weeks or bible studies, as well as our stewardship of the church. Jesus is reminding us that we do not do these things to get the approval of others, but we do them to be in a closer and more fulfilling relationship with God.
These ashes that we wear on our foreheads remind us of our humility, that no matter what we do, that God will love us the same as the next person. The ashes remind us that we are no better than any other person out there. And so, when we begin our Lenten observances we do so, not to be singled out as “good Christians” but to come to a deeper understanding feeling of that wonderful love that God has for us.
Joel 2:1-2; 12-17; Isaiah 58: 1-12; Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; Psalm 103