Ash Wednesday

14 February 2018

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (v. 21)

Forty days and forty nights

Psalm: Psalm 51


Background

This passage comes from the Sermon on the Mount, the Gospel of Matthew’s presentation of the teaching of Jesus in a style akin to that of Moses teaching the law from the mountainside in Exodus. These verses offer a commentary on parts of the previous chapter (Matthew 5:21-48). Having been told there what to do, now Jesus’ hearers are told how to do it. Each holy habit (almsgiving, prayer and fasting) is presented in a three-fold pattern; a declaration of the subject followed by a prohibition of wrong practice and finally an instruction about correct practice. Right deeds must come from right intentions, and this involves not public show and acclamation, but humility and forgetting of self.

A key question in this Gospel passage might be “Who are you trying to impress?” The public profile of the Church in society is important and does matter (see Acts 2:46 where the Early Church had “the goodwill of all the people”), and never more so than in this digital age where people go swiftly and regularly to Twitter, Facebook and other social media to see who is saying and doing what, and make judgements based on what they find there.

Many Christians and Christian leaders use such media, hoping that the profile presented is in itself a witness to their faith and to God, but maybe on Ash Wednesday we are being brought up short by these words. Maybe as our day by day Lenten disciplines begin we are being urged not to broadcast our devotion far and wide to our followers or friends but to practice it secretly before God? There is charm and beauty in the idea of a ‘hidden Lent’; a private treaty with God to use these 40 days to go deeper – to be more generous but less showy in our giving; to be more serious but less public in our prayer; to make some sort of private pact of self-denial with God. Such activities will be rewarded, not by likes or retweets, not by selection for high office or promotion in the church, not by the sort of appraisal and affirmation which many of us secretly enjoy, but by a heavenly treasure which we may not be able to envisage or imagine, but which may be transformational to our heart-life.


To Ponder

  • How might this reading lead you to Repentance and Renewal?
  • How are you planning to mark the season of Lent?
  • If you can find time today, read Psalm 51 and reflect on the centrality for the psalmist of their relationship with God.
  • In this digital age of communication, how can we keep a check on what we do to glorify ourselves and what we do to glorify God?

Bible notes author

Jill Baker

Jill Baker lives in Glasgow and is glad to be part of the small but distinctive Methodist Church in Scotland. She is a local preacher and local preachers’ tutor in the Strathclyde Circuit, where her husband Andrew is superintendent minister. For Jill, the past 20 years have included all sorts of roles within Methodism – further afield (as a mission partner in the South Caribbean) and closer to home (with WFMUCW, MWiB, leading pilgrimages and as part of various committees and groups) and is currently the Vice-President of the Conference 2017/2018. When not engaged in these ways, Jill enjoys walking in the beautiful mountains of Scotland, gardening and writing; she blogs at www.northoftheborder.wordpress.com and "Thanks, Peter God", her book about the life of her son, Peter, who died in 2012, was published in 2016.