Today’ Gospel Reading: Mathew 6:1-6,16-18 – ASH WEDNESDAY: 6 March 2019
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gave us some guidelines for our observance of Lent. His directives can have a powerfully transforming effect on us:
ALMS. “… when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, …” (Matthew 6:2 RSV). Sharing our material gifts is as old as the scriptures themselves. In the Old Testament, the Chosen People were to leave part of their crop for gleaning and picking by the poor. They also had a tri-annual tithe which was given to those who owned no land.
In the New Testament, Jesus teaches us the necessity of helping the poor and those in need. In the account of Judgment Day he tells us that those who have performed the works of charity will inherit the Kingdom prepared for them since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). He goes on to say: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus advises us also: “… when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, …” (Matthew 6:3).
PRAYER. “… when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, …” (Matthew 6:6). Prayer is our relationship to our loving Father. Prayer begins with the gift of ourselves which is motivated by love. Love impels us to give. Prayer is being for God and letting God be for us.
Nothing in the Gospel reveals more convincingly the absolute necessity of prayer than the example of Jesus Himself. Jesus prayed always and everywhere; in seclusion, on a mountaintop, in the synagogue. His prayer was not only inspired by a desire for silent intimacy with His Father, but it was also concerned with His mission. He prayed before all the important events of His life.
Luke tells us that Jesus spent forty days in prayer before He began His public ministry. He prayed at His baptism (Luke 3:21); at the transfiguration (9:29); before teaching us the Our Father (11:1); in seclusion with His disciples (9:18); in the Garden of Gethsemane (22:41); on the cross (23:34).
Jesus’ prayer was always the total gift of Himself to the Father. Listen to His prayer in the Garden: “Father, if Thou at willing, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). What a lesson for us! The ideal prayer posture should be: “Here I am Lord, what is it You want?” How often the most popular prayer is “MY will be done”, whereas the most perfect prayer is “YOUR will be done”.
FASTING. “… when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, …” (Matthew 6:17). Fasting consists in depriving ourselves of food and drink, or of some other legitimate satisfaction. Fasting occupies an important place in almost all religions. It has a strong scriptural basis.
Along with prayer and alms-giving, it is one of the essential acts which helps us express to God our humility, our hope, and our love. Fasting moves us into a prayer posture of dependence and total abandonment to our Abba. It is a posture which helps us express our sorrow for our sinfulness. Fasting helps us open our minds to the influence of God’s grace, to His divine light. It makes us open and receptive to His will and His grace. Fasting prepares us to give ourselves totally to the Lord. Fasting helps us to rivet our focus more directly and more permanently on God as our first priority.
Today in the Liturgy of the Word the Church would remind us of the importance of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving as we enter into this privileged season of Lent.
Jakarta, 6 March 2019 [ASH WEDNESDAY]
A Christian Pilgrim