Updated: Mar 1, 2020
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.”
On a day when we wear a very public sign of our faith on our foreheads, this text from the Gospel of Matthew can feel a little jarring. In my first years as an Episcopalian, I remember sitting in the pew on Ash Wednesday and wondering if anyone else was contemplating the gospel in the same way. However, it is not the symbol that is the issue, it is the motivation behind it. Any act of piety, if done with a focus on oneself and without the orientation toward God, can become empty of meaning.
At a time when our world seems particularly taken with image and the outer trappings of life, how do we focus our attention inward and on our relationship with God? Perhaps that is what we contemplate as we begin Lent. What are the treasures we are storing up for ourselves on earth — the things that are standing between us and God? What might we do to bring our awareness to this holy relationship, the one that ultimately sustains us when “moth and rust consumes”?
As we begin our Lenten journey, may we be willing to enter into the quiet places and renew our relationship with God.