In the Gospel reading from Ash Wednesday, Jesus cautions his listeners against practicing their piety in order to receive positive attention from others. Truly, he says, they have received their reward. But, he suggests, you should practice your piety in private and “Your father who sees in secret will reward you in secret.”
In my sermon, I suggested to the congregation, that we, in our culture, might find this text more pertinent to our lives if we substituted self-esteem or identity for the more foreign word, piety. It’s not that they are exact equivalents, but I think it catches our modern mindset more completely.
My basic premise from there was that we either live our lives with the goal of pleasing others and conforming to others expectations and desires for us, or we find our identity from this deep place where the soul encounters the primordial, divine power of the universe.
The passage concludes with the thought that we should not store up for ourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupt and destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but rather we should store our treasures in heaven where they are safe from destruction.
My conclusion was, when your identity is based on others’ expectations, desires and demands it can be taken away from you in a moment’s notice, by any stray comment or perceived social snub. Whereas, when you find your identity in that secret connection with the divine, you have an unshakeable character, one that is fearless and able to be a powerful agent for truth, justice and the compassionate way!
The purpose of Lent it seems to me is to help us wean ourselves away from the desires of others and center ourselves on this unshakeable and eternal presence which is our birthright as humans!