Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)
So we begin the first day of Lent with a reminder from Jesus about why and how we should practice our “conversations” with God.
Jesus did so against a backdrop of an Olympics of Piety. Praying, fasting and alms giving were often done as a display of a person’s piety rather than for the good they yielded. The Lord warns his disciples of self-seeking glory – the preoccupation with looking good and seeking praise from others. True piety is something more than feeling good or looking holy. True piety is loving devotion to God. It is an attitude of awe, reverence, worship and obedience. It is a gift and working of the Holy Spirit that enables us to devote our lives to God with a holy desire to please him in all things (Isaiah 11:1-2).
We are spiritual for God not people. We serve to please God not to get recognition. We can bluff a human audience and people will think we are genuine. They watch us give, pray, serve and they say “Wow, here is a committed Christian!” But if we are bluffing, God is not fooled. God can see right through our fake modesty and generosity, through our spiritual showiness.
What God desires is honesty, integrity, heart-felt commitment. God desires generosity, conversation, and spiritual practices that flow from our deep commitment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Lent is a time for seeking an audience – but with God, rather than with other people. It is a time for self-examination, when we should take the opportunity to assess our lives in the light of Jesus’ teaching.
The Greeks used the word “metanoia” – meaning a transformative experience in our lives. A period when we turn inward and not only repent but truly decide to chart a different path to move us away from those practices which seek self-gratification to those practices where our words and actions meld into a life and spirit of serving and helping others.
When we do that, we learn something else – we learn humility. True humility comes not from thinking less of ourselves. Humility is actually not thinking of ourselves at all. True humility is born of a deeper recognition of God’s presence, God’s nearness, the gift of God’s enveloping love. Such an awareness leaves us feeling humbled by God’s love for us. Such an awareness leaves us with the recognition that We are called to be disciples who make a difference. We are also called to be apostles sent to meet the people where they are, with the gift of Jesus’ gospel of love. We are not displaying our piety, but sharing our vulnerability.
This Lent, let us remember the path to holiness, the Way of Love, is a journey of humility and vulnerability, a journey of self-examination and self- awareness, a journey of regret, repentance, healing and hope.
Prayer of The Day
“Lord Jesus, give me a lively faith, a firm hope, a fervent charity, and a great love of you. Give me fervor and delight in thinking of you and your grace, and fill me with compassion for others, especially those in need, that I may respond with generosity.”
The motivation for our spiritual life is what is at issue here. Is our piety performed to affect status with God or with people? Jesus says that piety done to affect status with people only achieves status with people but it doesn’t count with God. What is the ultimate purpose of our spiritual activities? Our service, our prayer lives, our study and reflection, our mission? What is our ultimate purpose? To make connection with and commune with God, not to impress people.