Reflection on Matthew 6.1-6, 16-21 (Ash Wednesday)

Jesus said: Beware …

We live in a world that is increasingly controlled by rules and regulations. So many things we used to do are now subject to controls that are meant to protect us. The most basic of financial transactions, many simple household repairs and even our posting of a letter or parcel are accompanied by a barrage of questions that have become increasingly intrusive down the years. 

Of course, those ‘intrusive’ questions are meant to instil within us a sense that we are safe, that we are being protected from all that might harm us. But, do they achieve their aim?

Every day we hear of the misfortunes that befall those who should have felt protected by the seemingly endless catalogue of rules and regulations that have become enshrined in law on the basis that we will be ‘safe’. That catalogue of rules and regulations has, for many, numbed their innate sense of self-awareness and self-reliance. The ingenuity of those who would do us harm seems to be constantly outwitting those who have set themselves up as our guardian angels.

The intrusive questions of the front-line staff of our national institutions are about our physical well-being. Jesus’ word of caution, ‘Beware’, relates to our spiritual health.

Today we are embarking upon our annual pilgrimage through the season of Lent. As we journey towards the events of Holy Week and Easter we should be going through a time of trial that mimics that of Jesus in the wilderness. We are being called to support others, to pray and to fast. We are being called to resist the temptations of the devil, the one who will do everything he can to undermine the spiritual journey that begins today.

In today’s reading Jesus is asking a simple question. As we support others, pray and fast, Jesus is asking us how our chosen Lenten disciplines are bringing us closer to God; how are they enriching our spiritual selves?

Today, and throughout Lent, we are called to pray that our relationship with God might deepen. We are being called to set aside our need for the respect of other people in order that we might truly enter into the time of Christ’s Passion, and then the joy of his victorious resurrection. As we go forward through our Lenten pilgrimage, may Jesus’ word of warning ring in our ears: Beware! May we beware all that leads us into the clutches of the devil rather than the loving embrace of God.