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Ash Wednesday, March 2, 2022
Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21
“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.” (NRSV)
“Beware of practicing your piety before others.”
But do practice your piety.
“When you give alms, don’t sound a trumpet.”
But do give alms.
“Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.”
But make sure your right hand is doing something worth knowing about.
“When you fast, don’t disfigure your face.”
The words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that find us on Ash Wednesday warn of doing holy things for unholy reasons, and I must admit that I’ve been guilty of allowing the warning against the unholy reasons to dissuade me from doing the holy thing entirely. Lacking confidence that I could go to church and not want to be seen or give to someone in need without making some kind of public show of it, I’ve reasoned that the risk of showiness is too high, and I have shrunk.
We are often cautioned about help that actually hurts or “toxic charity” or even the hidden influence of paternalism—or even white supremacy—on efforts to help those in need. These are useful cautions. Doing the right thing for the wrong reason can distort the thing you think you’re doing in dozens of unintended ways. But that doesn’t mean doing good is impossible. It means we have to think harder and listen better before we act.
Jesus’ advice about piety is the same way. The life of piety—of prayer and meditation, compassion and self-denial—is a rich pathway to a closer relationship with God and a more just and merciful world. That a temptation lies always at hand to seek recognition for our piety should not dissuade us from it altogether, should not reduce us to timidity in our commitment to faith. Nobody is served when we shrink from giving and praying and serving. Rather, we are called to heed Jesus’ warning and to press ahead.
Lord Jesus, help us to pray and to give, to serve and to sacrifice, in a way that honors you and spreads your healing and your grace to a world in need. Amen.
Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry
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