Today is Ash Wednesday.
This is a big day for Christians. It’s the first day of Lent, a time of fasting and atonement to prepare for the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s not a Holy Day of Obligation like Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Easter, but it’s still a big deal. Us Christians haul ourselves off to Mass mid-week (if Catholic this can be particularly unsettling…gasp!) to remind ourselves this is the start of a 40-day period when we should remember to give, to sacrifice.
(In my opinion, we (all humans, not just Christians) should be doing that all year-long, but let’s not split hairs. If we (meaning me) can pull it off for 40 days straight, a habit may be formed and then there’s no hair to split.)
Anyway, Ash Wednesday. We go to church. We listen to the priest. We sing a few hymns. We eagerly step out of our pews to march single file up the aisle so the priest can sketch a little cross out of ashes on our foreheads. We leave Mass to go back to work, to run errands, to visit friends, all while sporting a dusty black smudge for the world to see.
And yet, the Gospel reading for today said:
|Matthew 6: 1 – 6, 16 – 18
|1||“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.|
|2||“Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.|
|3||But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,|
|4||so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.|
|5||“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.|
|6||But when 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.|
|16||“And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.|
|17||But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,|
|18||that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.|
There’s some irony there, don’t you think?