Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Hypocrisy test

Jesus teaching His disciples
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 6:1-21

TO CHEW ON: " 'For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.' " Matthew 6:21

We have, in our reading today, a good way to test where our hearts (and thus our treasure) is. Jesus talks about three things—spiritual things—and two ways in which we can do them. Done one way they gain us points with people. Done another they get God's attention:

Perform good deeds
We can broadcast that we're about to do or have done such a thing to gain a reputation for generosity. Or we can do our deeds (such as giving to the poor) so secretively we're scarcely aware of it ourselves.

We can pray long flowery prayers in public and so gain a reputation for piety, or pray secretly where no one but God sees us.

We can make a point of broadcasting our practice by going around wan and unkempt or carrying on as usual, spruced up and attractive, albeit hungry.

In each case, Jesus commends the secretive action and condemns the showy one because at the root of the showy one is a desire to impress, not God but other people.

In our day, showing off our piety is no less a temptation and just as hypocritical. And so the next time I (you?) am tempted to slip a self-congratulatory bit into conversation, framed in spiritual language  something like: "Thousands are reading my books and I am humbled that God would use me in this way," or "I am blessed to be able to give millions to my church" or "I spend most of the day in the word and prayer,"* I need to check myself. Why do I have the urge to say things like this? Could it be that I want a little praise for myself? That the ministry, speech, and action part for my life isn't only for God at all but to amass a little earth treasure in the form of a good reputation for me?

*All made-up statements, by the way.

Dear God, my heart is deceitful and creative in thinking of ways to draw attention to myself instead of doing things purely for You. Please forgive me and alert me to when I'm tempted to do this. Amen.

MORE: Ash Wednesday

Today is the day the church celebrates Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. The "ash" part of the day comes from the practice of painting, with ash, the form of a cross on the worshiper's forehead. The ash is a symbol of repentance. In Bible times, actions to do with ashes were a symbol of grief, remorse, and repentance. 

The liturgy for Ash Wednesday begins with this Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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