February 17

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“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.” vs. 1

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, traditionally the time for followers of Jesus to receive the imposition of ashes at worship as a sign of repentance. In most congregations the ashes are imposed on the forehead in the shape of a cross with the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Believers are then encouraged to leave the ashes on their foreheads through the day as a public expression of their faith. It’s a worthy ancient tradition, though some wonder if it isn’t a violation of Jesus’ warning against “practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” It may be that for some it is a way of showing off, though in our secular times that usually isn’t something for us to worry about. Most of us are so careful about practicing our piety in public that our friends and neighbors don’t even know that we are people of faith. On this one day, the cross on our forehead, retracing the mark etched there at our baptisms, is a powerful reminder of our connection to the suffering and death of Jesus. We are people of the cross, familiar with suffering, and doing all we can to bring the message of redemption and grace to a guilt-wracked and hurting world–and we’re called to do that every day, not just Ash Wednesday.

Thought for the Day: What does the imposition of ashes mean for me?

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