There are many reasons Jesus could go after the Pharisees in the gospel but maybe none more than this image that they tried to project onto the people that somehow they are above the law, somehow they have this all figured out, and in many ways, have mastered life. Now we all know it’s not true, and yet, like them, we still try to do it in our own lives. We’re all guilty of it, guilty of the hypocrisy that Jesus speaks of in today’s gospel as we begin this Lenten season. Everything is not what we see is what Jesus tries to show to the disciples today. They see the actions of the Pharisees and they see the actions of others that they aren’t doing what they’re doing in prayer and fasting because of God but rather what it does for their own image and the persona they want to project.
It’s a tough place to be because we’re all there, and yet, if we follow Jesus’ direction in this gospel to go to that inner place rather than flaunting things and we’re still trying to live this image we’ve created, well, when we go there we’re going to feel the emptiness that comes with it. We find ourselves not wanting to live with ourselves because we know we’re living a lie rather than living from a place of authenticity, a place of integrity. All along, there is as Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, a God who continues to appeal through us. God doesn’t give up on the people, but rather, even when they sway and get caught up in these images, false selves that are created, God continues to appeal through us to call us back to who we really are. Otherwise, we live with that constant emptiness within ourselves, lonely, knowing we can never live up to the image we have wanted to be or think we are. We live a lie, God appeals, and we’re called back, to our home.
Lent provides us the opportunity to examine our lives and where we still fall short in trying to be someone other than we are, believing the lies we create for ourselves. Ironically, we can’t even hide behind it today on this Ash Wednesday because we will leave here with ash on our heads, only hoping that it can seep through the image and persona we have created for ourselves for it is only through the cross that we are broken through, through the hypocrisy that we’ve created and takes us to the true home, the place of authenticity that we already desire. That mark on our heads not only reminds us of our lives but everyone that gazes upon that cross. We’re all the same in that sense.
There’s something freeing when we can allow ourselves to move to that place, when we finally get dissatisfied with the self we’ve created and think we have to be and allow ourselves to be our best self. That doesn’t mean that we ever get it together. That doesn’t mean that we know it all and life is somehow perfect. That doesn’t mean that somehow we mastered this life that we has been given to us. Rather, as Paul states, salvation comes upon us and our truest self is revealed through the cross, a loved and redeemed sinner. When we can live from that place our lives are more enriched and fulfilled because we no longer need to be something or someone else; we can’t anyway. Finally we can live from the place of a God that continues to appeal through. Lent invites us into that journey, that discovery, that place of conversion and we become who we have always been and always will be, loved and redeemed and yet sinner. What a place of freedom! No longer an image or persona but the real deal. Welcome to the journey. Welcome to Lent.