A Time To Focus The Heart
Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting represented practices of popular piety during the time of Jesus. They were especially popular among the Pharisees (see Luke 18:9-14, for example). In Matthew, Jesus did not criticise the practices but he did comment on their motivation. The way people prayed, fasted and gave alms marked the difference between the follower of Jesus and the Pharisee. Did one perform these practices boastfully to look good in the community and increase reputation? Or did one pray, fast, and give alms quietly with the sole intention of pleasing God?
Like many of His other parables and sayings, Jesus painted the situation in the extreme to make a point. Not every Pharisee practiced his religion so blatantly in the open just to curry favour with the faithful. And not every Christian could exercise his faith so quietly no one would notice. In fact, dubious faith behaviours can garner attention and comment in a community. Jesus wasn’t just criticising Pharisees for acting piously in the public arena, or asking His followers to keep religion in the private sphere. He was asking a far more fundamental question – why does a person fast, pray and give alms? For self-serving reasons? Or selfless reasons? We might ponder this question on Ash Wednesday; what resolutions have we made for Lent and why have we chosen these resolutions? Do they serve self-more than others and how?
If our answer gravitates more towards ourselves than others, it is time to reassess our motivation. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are only means to an end. We practice them to open ourselves up to God and the needs of others. So, during Lent, we should focus on relationship, not on reputation.
Lent is a time for self-reflection and for action. Lent is not a time to merely “give up something”. It is a season to do something – for others and for God. It is a time to focus the heart. Over the next week, we might resolve to focus on others less fortunate and on God. This will help make this Lent a time for our spiritual growth.
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