Ash Wednesday-Loose hypocrisy, not the discipline!- Joel 2: 12-n 18/ Mt 6: 1-6, 16-18.
Ash Wednesday ushers in the Lenten season, with readings that set the tone that reflect the mind of the Church. A Christian by his or her very calling, is invited to fast, pray and give alms. For most people, Lent is a time when we ‘begin once again’ these spiritual disciplines as disciples. In truth, Lent is a time when we heighten them!
In the Gospel of Matthew, we will hear Jesus say three times, “WHEN you fast, WHEN you pray, WHEN you give alms.” Jesus does not say IF you fast, IF you pray, IF you give alms. Jesus expects us to fast, pray and give alms at all times. So our spiritual discipline of prayer, fasting and almsgiving must be practiced all through our lives, all year long. Lent is merely an intensive period.
In the first reading, prophet Joel calls for a fast with trumpet blasts. Paradoxically, Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew says not to trumpet your almsgiving. So what should we do? Let’s place this in perspective. The Jews fasted publically only on Yom Kipur (the Day of Atonement), which was the last day of a ten day penitential period. Yom Kipur was a public fast which was called to unite all penitents. The Jews would also have other days of public fasting; for example they would fast in the face of invasion or famine, and they also had their own traditional days of fasting, namely Tuesdays and Thursday like we Christians do on Wednesdays and Fridays.
In the first reading, prophet Joel calls for a public fast in the face of both, a locust devastation and an invading army. It is his hope that God will spare His people, which God does. The prophet invites the whole assembly, from priest to people, to join him in a fast. Picking up from these Old Testament traditions, the Church too invites us to fast, and flanks the season of Lent with two days of public fasts – Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
In between these public days of fast, is the private period of Lent, private to every disciple. That is why Jesus decried the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who wanted to sound the trumpet when they gave alms in the temple. Jesus also abhorred their fasts, which they did in order to win men’s attention, or their prayers said in street corners just to be seen. Jesus is emphatic; you have your reward! There is nothing more for you.
When we corrupt faith, we use it to draw attention to ourselves – not to Jesus! The Christian is called to a private Lenten period; He/she and their God. Let’s not get the bull by the tail. Because Jesus decries the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, He is not denying the practice of Lenten disciplines. Some Catholics feel quite ‘concerned’ about the hypocrisy of other Catholics, and find in it an excuse to exempt them selves from the discipline itself. Loose hypocrisy, not the discipline!
Fr Warner D’Souza