Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21
[Jesus said] “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. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Following our evening service during which we imposed ashes on the foreheads of our parishioners, I finally made it home for a time of peace before a late night of sermon writing and Facebook checking. When I booted up the computer and pulled up my Facebook page, I was struck by the number of people who posted pictures of themselves wearing the ashes of repentance. It was almost comical. The words of Jesus, “don’t practice your piety in such a way…” slapped me in the face.
Now please, please, please don’t get the impression I am passing judgement. Nothing could be further from the truth. The folks who posted pics with ashes are all faithful Christian people connecting with the community of Christ and sharing their common beliefs and reliance on God’s mercy. I sincerely feel the ashes displayed were a method by which those separated by distance and time were able to gather as children of the Heavenly Father. But still, the words of Christ were right there in front of all of our faces.
So how often do we Christians practice our piety in such a way as to call attention to our perceived level of faithfulness? Though not intentional, do we lift up our particular brand of faith as a superior model for others? Do we want people to see us and know we are Christians? It’s something to think about as we enter this Lenten season.
I invite others to reflect on these texts as we consider how we practice our piety. Leave your comments and let’s see where the discussion goes.