Ash Wednesday – 2018
We all want credit for something. When we do a good deed we like to be recognized for it. Maybe we are self-indulgent, maybe we have low self-esteem, nevertheless we want credit for many things that we do. When we don’t get credit from others we often want credit from God. We want our good deeds to lead to good benefits that we get from God. It’s a tit for tat – good things are blessed by God by giving us more money, etc. We treat God like an ATM.; we just enter the right code and God just spits out what we need. Understood in another way, our good deeds are like a lottery ticket that guarantees us a reward – we always have winnings coming to us!
To challenge the status quo we look at Matthew 6:1-16:
6 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Here in this passage Jesus we have part of Jesus’ first teaching – Sermon on the Mount. He is teaching those around Him, especially the disciples, how they should live. Following Jesus is not like following other priests, leaders, or people in general. Jesus demands behavior that resets the expectations of what it means to be religious. The disciples were no longer called to be religious, but to be disciples. Being disciples meant to give your heart, soul, and mind to God. It is not just rote behavior, but also something greater than that.
This passage is not necessarily only about the actions of the disciples. Yes, it is about giving to the needy as well as prayer. But the main point is righteousness. But whose righteousness is this about. We have two kinds on display: human and divine righteousness. As we said above, Jesus turns the tables on traditional religious practices. What does this mean? Fundamentally it means that the righteousness no longer comes from human, but from God alone through Jesus Christ. Our righteousness is not something we earn or get credit for. Jesus clearly says that those who seek credit are hypocrites. They say they are doing it for God, but they are clearly doing it for themselves. There might be earthly glory for this. They might be thought of as great and holy, but God will have none of that kind of righteousness.
The Lenten season calls us to reflect on Christ and his righteousness. Those who sought their own righteousness are the ones who didn’t see Christ’s. This led Him to the cross. Those who desperately desired for meaning in their lives through the words of Christ were the ones who turned on Him because of their self-righteousness. They believed they were righteous; they believed they were doing the right thing; they believed that they were honoring God. God is honored when we give up our own righteousness and allow ourselves to be declared righteous through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.