By: Chad Hyatt
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Reflection—v. 1, ‘Beware of practicing your righteousness’

I’m a pretty weird guy—I really love Ash Wednesday and Lent. I love the smells and bells when we gather with other neighborhood churches. I love the imposition of ashes and the chalky black crosses that paint our foreheads. I love coming to the table to share with one another in the bread and wine that is the body and blood of Jesus. And I really, really love the theme of penance. It’s old-fashioned and cringe-worthy enough of a word to make us ill at ease—and yet radical enough to invite us to serious transformation. Francis of Assisi often described himself as just a penitent. Think about it: one of the most beloved holy people in all of history thought of himself as living a life of constant turning from sin. That makes me feel that real holiness is actually about practicing it— which, for me at least, would have to include a lot of messing it up along the way—and not about some idealized version of being human that is pretty much out of our reach. But I wonder if we haven’t allowed penance to become too church-y. We might come closer to what Jesus was talking about if our repentance was less religious and more real world, less bourgeois aspirational ‘spiritual growth’ and more righting and repairing our relationships with other human beings and creation. Jesus commends alms-giving, prayer, and fasting not as status-driven virtue-signaling but as ways to widen the capacity of our hearts for doing right by our neighbor and realizing the kingdom of heaven in the here and now. I think that’s a kind of weirdness our world could use a little more of.

Prayer Jesus, help us always and ever to turn toward you—in our streets as much as in our pews.

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