“Do not blow a trumpet before you”

For those going to Ash Wednesday services and fasting today or in the days ahead during Lent, Jesus has advice for you in Matthew 6:1-6; 16-18.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

Although this advice seems particularly apt today, it transcends Lent. Many who call themselves Christians wear their “righteousness” and their “piety” and their “prayers” like garments for all to see and admire. They give alms to great public applause, putting their names on pews or walls or buildings. Walking along the streets or in hallways or in offices, they wear dour faces of suffering and sacrifice. As Jesus points out, they already have their reward and no more is coming.

Be careful when wearing that cross of ash on your forehead today. Be cautious in fasting. Giving up something or doing something special during Lent? Keep it to yourself and to God, for the true gift is given not for the recognition but for the one receiving it.

Likewise, pray not to be lauded in public but to be heard by God, who hears every whisper. Prayer at the table should be respectful and for God’s ears, not for public discourse. Prayer in community is one thing, but prayer in public outside of community (church) is another thing entirely. Be careful who you seek to benefit from the prayer, for as Jesus has said, those who pray to be seen have already received their reward.

In Lent, we prepare for Easter and all that leads up to it. Before the joy comes the pain and sacrifice. In life likewise, we prepare for our own joyful entry into heaven after death. Do not blow a trumpet before you — let God reward you for your journey instead.

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