February 26, 2020 (Wednesday) - Recognition - A Reflection on Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

“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. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Today is Ash Wednesday signaling the start of Lent! We have the same readings we have at the start of every Lenten season, exhorting us to pray, fast, and give alms. And when doing this, we are advised to do so in a way that doesn’t attract attention to ourselves. Otherwise our reward in heaven is forfeited, because we have already received what we sought on earth: recognition. Is that a bad thing, to seek recognition? Let us reflect on that today. 

Firstly, let us understand that seeking recognition, and the satisfaction that results, is not what Jesus condemns; it is seeking it in the wrong source. The right source is Jesus. When we do things to gain the approval of Jesus, we end up doing the right things, and the appreciation we receive from Jesus is immensely satisfying. We will receive much of it in the life hereafter, but we also receive a lot of it in the here and now in the form of joy and peace that we obtain in doing his will. 

Why can’t we seek the appreciation of both Jesus and the world? Simply because a man cannot serve two masters. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). And, although Jesus was speaking in reference to money as the second master, this is a universal truth. You cannot please both God and people, because what pleases the one does not please the other.

Paul understood this. He said, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). And being a servant of Christ, as several of the reflections over the past two weeks have shown, involves a denial of self and a dying to self. Not seeking the recognition of people is a step in this direction. 

Before I conclude: I am preaching five Lenten retreats: three in Mumbai, one in Dubai, and one in Kenya and if you are anywhere near me during these retreats, please do attend. For some reason, people like what I have to say, and many join the program that follows the retreat. The program is a great way to continue the journey of discipleship that we practice during Lent, and by the time the program is over, we can pretty much complete it on our own.

You can find more details on my Facebook pages. Have a blessed Lent.