The true test of each of our characters is how we act, what we say, when we are alone or with trusted loved ones. I think all of us would be a bit embarrassed if people saw our lives as they truly are. We all say things which we regret (hopefully) with those in our inner circles. The language we use, how we refer to other people we don’t like, uttering harsh critiques of our detractors, quietly taking things that don’t belong to us, secretly opening up the medicine cabinet in a friend’s house, looking at the bottles, especially the prescriptions, how we label people who are “different.”
It is strange that we begin the season of Lent in a very public way, for all to see. Even the ashes are quite visibly displayed on our foreheads, unless yours was sprinkled upon. “Call the assembly,” cries the prophet Joel, and “sound the trumpets.” I say it’s strange to begin so public because Jesus seems to be taking a much different approach to engaging in penitential practices.
Jesus yes he’s us to pray, give alms and fast as if we WEREN’T doing these things. Why? To avoid self referencing behavior that makes people notice how much we give or how much we sacrifice. “Look at ME. I’m so religious, I’m doing so much and giving up so much.” The “reward” of people taking notice is momentary and fleeting, however, which is no reward at all.
Jesus wants us to sacrifice, give up, make extra efforts to help the poor IN SECRET, making no one notice our religious efforts. But how can you evangelize and get people to open up about faith if you DON’T mention how you practice your faith? “Go out into the world proclaiming the Good News,” says Jesus, commands Jesus, but do it in the privacy of your own “inner” room. Baffling.
Jesus is simply challenging us not to turn our religion into a show, to place us on the pedestal of admiration. WE, then, become the focus, not God. The whole purpose of Lent is to shatter pedestals and give God the glory. Our reward happens beyond the sacrifice, in the future, when we get glimpses of our true destinies.
The destiny that awaits us is to live life in absolute abundance and satisfaction, beyond the shadow of death, where there are only years of joy. When we emerged from the waters of baptism our journey began to that beautiful destiny. And when we arrive, there will be NO pedestals, only the reward that never ends: God’s Love. Stay off pedestals and stop putting else on one, for they can be quite dangerous.
Have a Blessed Lent,