Jesus said to his disciples, “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them…When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before 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…When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.”
This morning, a mom asked me if it would be appropriate to give her son’s baseball team donuts in celebration of his 16th birthday. I told her that maybe ashes would be better! I think she believed me because I never heard back from her!
Exterior discipline during Lent is important, but the Lord makes it clear very clear what He wants when his prophet Joel writes: “Rend your hearts, not your garments.”
Most of us look in the mirror to see how we are physically doing. But once in a while we look there just to find ourselves (and not allow ourselves to escape), especially after we have committed some horrible mistake. It is during one of these sessions that we ask the deepest questions: “What are you doing to yourself???” “What have you done???” “Why are you like this???”
This is deep. This is profound. This is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.
If we were to routinely live our lives by only examining our physical traits, then we would surely live a lonely and shallow life. But today it will not be that way! Not for the next forty days and nights if God has His way.
Today, we received our ashes. Now one of the reasons why we put ashes on our forehead is because they don’t belong there. That’s what makes Ash Wednesday so intriguing for those who don’t get us! They look weird being there – on our forehead, on us. But ashes serve an incredible purpose. They are an eloquent representation of something hidden, unseen, yet very well known that does not belong on me: sin, guilt and filth.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of something profound: Lent. And Lent is the beginning of something even more profound: conversion.
Hypocrites. A hypocrite is someone who isn’t who they claim to be; that is, there’s an imbalance, a disunity, between the inside and the outside; the spiritual and the physical; thoughts and words; the soul and the body. Hypocrites are like fractions, where the numerator (the interior) is not of the same value as the denominator (the exterior) or not valued enough. Now if they were both of the same value – regarded with esteem – then the fraction would be equal to one: in our case, one person.
All humans are fractured; hence, all humans are hypocrites; that is, imbalanced. Christians are hypocrites because they hate sin but fall into it. During Lent, the Lord assists all Christians in elevating the dignity of both their interior and exterior life to the highest value, Jesus Christ, and at the same time reduce any access weight given to one or the other.
Throughout our lives, we have the tendency to value the body over the soul and/or our will over God’s Will. During Lent, we do well in accepting God’s grace to balance things out towards Him; otherwise, we can easily have a distorted picture of God and human life.
Case in point. Upon hearing the news of the Pope’s resignation, zoologist and spiritual head of the world’s atheists, Richard Dawkins, sent a tweet yesterday to all his followers: “I feel sorry for the Pope…”, he wrote, “Imagine having a wasted life to look back on and no sex.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel sorry for all those people who have had plenty of sex and experienced little-to-no love. What a tragedy!
As for the Pope, he isn’t seeking our sympathy. He’s asking for our prayers.
Lent is that time of year where we take a leap of faith so as to plunge into the realm of God. God, like love, is not found in the shallow but in the deep, in the profound; and like love, God will not allow himself to be reduced to sex, like some pagan cults of today and days long gone.
God, like love and life itself, is profound and complex. He is not crisp or rigid like a mathematical equation. And people are not word problems easily solved; we don’t easily fit into formulas!
In the profound is where the Lord is found.
Heavenly Father, give us the strength and the courage plunge, body and soul, into the depths of Christ’s love, so that His love will be found in our hearts. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
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