Ash Wednesday - Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Lent
Wednesday February 13th, 2013
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
"Beware of practising your piety before others in
order to be seen by them; for then you have no
reward from your Father in heaven."
Ash Wednesday, which we mark today, is the great feast of Christian hypocrisy. In Matthew 6, Jesus warns us against practicing our righteousness before others. When you fast, he says, " do not be gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others." But if that is so, why do Christians (Anglicans in particular) so flagrantly violate the Lord's command? Why do we publicly advertise our prayer and fasting with the sign of ashes? It seems a curious way to begin a forty-day period of penitence.
We might wonder, of course, why hypocrisy is such a terrible thing. Surely there are many sins more awful than parading one's virtue in public. The problem with hypocrisy, though, is the way it masks the truth of our condition. We all of us share in the larger human history of violence and self-seeking and refusal of love, refusal of God. The only way we sinners can be healed is by returning to God. This is why hypocrisy is so insidious-not just because it's dishonest (although it is) but because by it we deceive ourselves. The public display of righteousness allows us to perpetuate the fiction that we are in control, that everything is just fine, that we can "manage" sin on our own. In this way it becomes one more means of God-avoidance, which is what sin is in the first place.
Paradoxically, that's why it's good for us to go to church and have those ashes smeared on for all to see. On Ash Wednesday, we can't even pretend we're not hypocrites. By acknowledging our sin before others, we can maybe begin to acknowledge it to God. The season of Lent drives us toward an encounter with "the Father who is in secret" and who "sees in secret." In that secret place is our healing, our life.
Gracious God, teach me to stop avoiding you.
Help me use to use this Lent wisely.
Show me that I am not only dust but your beloved child.
In Jesus' name, Amen.
Dr. Joseph Mangina
Professor of Systematic Theology at Wycliffe College, began his theological studies at Yale Divinity School. Dr. Mangina has written two books on the thought of Karl Barth and has recently published a theological commentary on the book of Revelation. He is also the editor of Pro Ecclesia: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology.
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