Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount today. We have been graced thus far with the teachings of the Beatitudes, being salt and light, as well as the six antithesis we have been reflecting upon over the past week. Today, Jesus presents common practices of living a life of faith. The key point he is making though has again to do with our end goal. As discussed yesterday, as his disciples we are called to be “perfect just as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Again perfection here is that our telios, or end goal, is to be one with God. We are striving to become holy, to be saints, for the purpose of deepening our bond and relationship with God.
Our being perfected in Jesus is a process whereby we become less and Jesus becomes more. What decreases is our focus on self, especially the ego self, our sense of self-centeredness. Jesus provides for us three ways in which we can practice drawing closer into communion with God and one another. We are to give alms, pray, and fast. We may remember these as being the three pillars of Lent that we put extra emphasis on during that penitential season.
Jesus cautions his disciples and us. When we give alms, pray, and fast, our intent must be properly ordered. If we give alms with the intention to “win the praise of others” (Mt 6:2), pray in a public display “so that others may see” us (Mt 6:5), and in our fasting “look gloomy” and “neglect [our] appearance, so [we] may appear to others to be fasting” (Mt 6:16), then we are seeking to do so such that the focus become on us. We think to ourselves, how holy and pious we are. Instead we are hypocrites, because in each of these actions, we are not seeking to improve our relationship with God, nor to build up his kingdom. The intent is to build up our own pride and ego, the focus is on us.
Jesus indeed calls us to holiness. What that means is we are to give of ourselves to others in a service of love, so that others may be empowered, strengthened, and grow in their faith life, so they too may join us in building up God’s kingdom. We are to seek Jesus in prayer with the intent of receiving the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit that we may be purged of that which feeds our false self so we can be freed of the dross of our accumulated sin, our imperfections, and that which we are attached to. In our time of prayer and examination of conscience, Jesus reveals to us that which we have an unhealthy attachment too, that which keeps our focus on ourselves instead of God. It is to these areas that we can fast from. In these conscious acts of the will, we choose God over self and continue to mature into who he calls us to be.
In our prayer today, let us ask Jesus to reveal to us one way that we are putting ourselves before God, for him to reveal to us a pattern or habit of sin that keeps us bound to our own pride and prejudice, and/or something that we are attached to that we can fast from. And then one way we can reach out and give of ourselves to someone else. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are not only for Lent. There are many people that are in need of God’s support and help right now. We become the hands and feet of Jesus when we are willing to allow him to lead us to serve others with the love of the Holy Spirit and simply allow God to happen in our encounter today.
Photo: One place I have found to pray, meditation garden by our apartment in LA. Where is your sacred space?