Ash Wednesday – March 2, 2022

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Author Chad Hyatt

Reflection: v. 2, ‘So whenever you do mercy…’

Hoping to turn our hearts and lives toward God in new ways this Lent, we are called to reengage with three vital practices: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving (or doing mercy). Compared to prayer and fasting, doing mercy is little talked about and less understood. Our text begins with Jesus saying we should show some intentionality about how we as individuals and communities practice justice, simply reminding us of what should be obvious—justice-making is integral to following God faithfully. Sadly, the NRSV and many other translations simply miss the mark here. It says something of where we find ourselves as churches that we have substituted ‘acts of piety’ for ‘practices of justice.’ That most of us never notice the inadequacy of a translation we read every Ash Wednesday only underscores how far we are from understanding that practicing justice ought to be an everyday witness to our faith. Similarly, the English word alms or almsgiving is commonly understood as giving money to poor people as a kind of religious duty or obligation. But the Greek word, just like the word ‘justice’ earlier, isn’t alms as we commonly think of it. Instead, the word is related to mercy. Unlike simply giving money or goods away, mercy is more. It isn’t something we can easily fit into a check-list of right-standing with God, a duty we can perform. Like justice, mercy is relational—concerned for the well-being of others, pulling us deeper into hospitable, caring, and mutual engagement with our sisters and brothers. On my wall, there’s the gift my co-worker gave us this Christmas. It’s a print of the traditional works of mercy laid out in wood-cut images: sharing food, clothing, shelter, visiting the sick and the imprisoned, burying the dead. I am graced to see this mercy in our little community everyday. Lent extends the same grace to all our communities so that we might be more intentional about our practice of justice, especially mercy. After all, couldn’t we use a little more mercy in our troubled world? I believe we can become the kinds of communities our world needs, that all of us are looking for. So let us open our doors and our pantries, set our banqueting tables for a feast, and welcome all who are hungry and weary and shivering from the cold—not only during Lent or even every Sunday but every day.

Prayer God, by your own mercy towards us, lead us to practice more mercy in relationship with our sisters and brothers every single day.

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