Human beings are naturally self-centered. In fact so are other animals. No one gives a hot dog to one dog among 3 and expects him to share. This trait manifests itself early in life. Infants and toddlers expect, even demand, to be the center of attention.
As the world seems more complex and threatening, we are tempted to turn our focus inward. Fear causes us to focus on ourselves. Self-centeredness also stems from a lack of love.
Social commentators tell us that more and more Americans are judging laws, social policies, careers, and the like by this one question: What’s in it for me?
Whatever the reason, no one can argue that much of our society chooses to “look out for number one.” And this attitude eventually spills over into our worship of God. We want some return on our investment here! If we are going to pray, we want others to praise our eloquent speech. If we give money, we want a mention in the newspaper or a nice plaque in the entryway. If we fast, we want folks to point to us as a good example.
But Jesus says, “Don’t look for go tooting your own horn when you give to help others.” Don’t make a show of your prayer life by trying to outdo each other with heaps of words and flowery phrases, and when you fast don’t put on the “poor, poor pitiful me” look and call attention to yourself. When it comes to treasures on earth, don’t keep on renting storage spaces to hold everything you ever gotten.
Jesus had a word for people like that. He called them “hypocrites.” The word hypocrisy means, simply, “putting on a mask.” One scholar suggests that Jesus himself coined the word, borrowing it from the Greek actors, or hypocrites, who entertained crowds at an outdoor theater near his home. Back then, a hypocrite was a person who put on a mask to play someone he was not. Is that why revelers don Mardi Gras masks?
Jesus doesn’t want us to make a show of our faith. Jesus wants us to be authentic in our commitment to him. That’s what Ash Wednesday is all about. That’s what Lent is all about. It’s about dropping the pretense. It’s about living the Christian life to the best of our ability and not worrying about what the rest of the world thinks. It’s about dropping the masks. It’s about becoming “recovering hypocrites.”
Over these next 40 days I hope you will find something that you will GIVE UP that will help you LIVE UP to your calling and bring you closer to the One who has called your name. I hope you will Give up and Look up and Rise up and Raise up your hopes, your joys, your dreams, your vision of who God is calling you to be, and who God is calling us to BECOME as his people who welcome people of all kinds into God’s family, even at the risk of welcoming and helping a few “hypocrites in recovery.”