The sole purpose of the triple spiritual works (fasting, praying, and almsgiving) that we take upon ourselves during the season of Lent is to enable us to come closer to God. The desire to have a life in God calls for a constant self-examination of one’s spiritual life; an examination that takes an honest look at our spiritual life before God. But often we pay undue attention to how others perceive our spiritual life to be and not so much where we stand before God. No wonder Jesus reminded his disciples:
[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; … When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others… When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners… When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting (Mt 6).
Jesus’ message is clear that our spiritual acts are not for show off; to receive human recognition. But knowingly or unknowingly we let others to judge our prayer/spiritual life mostly based on our external acts but what is important is the purity of our hearts from which everything arises and God sees the heart. The desired effect of the triple spiritual works will not be possible even if our acts are good but our hearts are filled with evil thoughts. For Jesus, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person” (Mt15:19-20). Isn’t it for this reason that Jesus warns us not to be like the hypocrites? He publically admonished the teachers of the law and Pharisees, “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others” (Mt 23:5-7). Their emphasis was on the externals but God, as Jesus says, will look into the heart and our external acts should be in harmony with what is in our hearts.
It is very important to have a pure heart because no one else will ever know what is going on in our hearts. Isn’t it true that even couples living together for long cannot really know what is going on inside the heart of the other? Others base their judgment of me solely on my external acts. But God looks into the heart and can see us through. During this Lenten season let us take a serious look at what is going on in our hearts? Is my heart clean from murder, adultery, theft, false testimony, and slander? Do I refrain from making false or damaging statements about someone? Am I seriously doing something to stay away from slandering another person?
In this season we are expected to fast, pray, and give alms. And Jesus himself set an example: fasting, praying, and leading a very simple life. It will not be an exaggeration to say that his fasting, praying, and living a simple life kept his heart clean and pure. He did not utter a false statement against others nor damaged the reputation of anyone who came in contact with him. Even when Judas betrayed Him, Jesus did not rebuke him in harsh words neither did he call him a betrayer. He just addressed him as a friend. “Do what you came for, friend" (Mt 26:50). What would our reactions be? If someone betrays us we would not only condemn the person but also tarnish the person’s name and reputation taking recourse to social media that is available to us. Even when people abused Jesus physically and verbally he chose the path of non-violence and did good for them. Neither condemnation nor judgment came from his mouth as his heart was pure. We all remember the response of Jesus to Peter’s denial of him.
Lent is a time to examine whether our life is a whitewashed tomb: beautiful to look at from outside but full of dead bones inside. What does our heart contain: greed and selfish ambitions or the values of the Sermon on the Mount? Are we performing acts for others to take note off? In the eyes of the world we may be superheroes, super spiritual, and super righteous but in the eyes of God we will be “Hypocrites.” What really counts is what we are in the eyes of God.
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