Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (NRSV)
6 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
It is Ash Wednesday, a day that marks the beginning of the traditional Lenten journey of following Jesus on the way to the cross. One tradition marking this journey with attention to self-reflection
and the practice of denial is the question, “What will you give up for Lent?” But Jesus’ words in his Sermon on the Mount raise some cautions about the risk or danger of placing emphasis on outward show or practice, as if that were the basis of some spiritual paycheck.
Instead, Jesus teaches here about a gracious God who calls his followers to the way of steadfast
love. He teaches them to pray, “Our Father, your kingdom come … and rescue us from the evil one.”
He invites them to see that the truly examined life rests in knowing what it means to have “treasure in heaven,” and to experience the truth that treasure and heart belong together—because you have been given a heart that perceives the rich mercy of a Father who knows what you need even before
Gracious God, teach us to examine our life and know that you stand ready to give the rich rewards of life in you even before we ask. Such are the riches of your promise to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.