Text – Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21:
6:2 “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. 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 done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5 “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. 6 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.
16 “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. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 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.
Not everyone will see any significance or applicability to these days we call Lent. Self-reflection and a penitent heart will be foreign concepts to these indifferent people.
By the same token, there are those who will be incapable of seeing any human connection with giving alms to the needy, praying to God for the progress of the Kingdom, or fasting in order to give time to meditation. They will, rather, see these as ways to draw attention to themselves for their “holy” behavior.
Jesus warns that by attracting the praise of others, these people will have in that praise seen the only result of their religious deeds. Nothing else will result from it.
On the other hand, those who recognize that these are private actions will see them multiply in devotion to God, blessing others who need them, and enlarging their life in the Spirit. In this period of Lent, we have the opportunity of seeing the truth of Jesus’ warning, “Do practice your religious devotion in order to draw the praise of others; you have in that purpose seen the only benefit and result.
Lent reminds us of the unseemliness of self-aggrandizement.
Dear God in Heaven. How easy it is to forget the object of our devotion. Especially when we seek some sort of personal publicity or special treatment by You. Give us a simple and penitent heart. May our gaze be turned away from Self and toward the good that we can do for others. Always to your glory and not ours. In Jesus’ name we pray this. Amen.