Jesus spoke and taught about elevating personal responsibility in relationships. Relationships can take on many forms — families of origin, families of creation, and families we have chosen. But Jesus does not speak just to relationships of intimacy. He speaks to relationships between all of humanity. He sets expectations that each of us who choose to follow him will assume responsibility for the stranger, widow, orphaned, and neighbor, and count it as righteousness.
We think of Jesus’ teachings on piety as rooted in humility and humbleness. When we read the gospel of Matthew, we hear that our acts or behavior should be in secret.
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.
In order to be faithful, no one should see what we are doing so as not to be haughty. We should not put on a show for others. This is admirable behavior, but this mindset is what Jesus is calling into correction. What others think or do not think will not bring reward or treasure in our lives. It is what is changing within us that others cannot see is the root of piety.
Through the prophet Joel, God asks us to “return” to him and this requires us to right our path. Do what we need to do (fasting, weeping, mourning) to become aware of who we have become and change our hearts and not our outward appearance.
2:12 Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Through Isaiah, God asks why the people are going through the motions of religion.
58:3 “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.
58:5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
58:6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to lose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
58:7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. I said to each person as I drew the sign of the cross on their foreheads, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” These words serve as a call to right our expectations of a faithful life.
This Lenten season, “God is asking the faithful to change from the inside…out.”
Are you the faithful?
Rev. Carol D. Sparks
Hate Hurts. Grace Heals. Love Wins!