How Will We Wear Our Ashes?

A reading for Ash Wednesday, March 5, 2014: Luke 18:9-14.

Jesus teaches a parable about two men who go up to the temple to pray. He does not tell us the occasion for such prayers. He does not tell us who these two men are, other than the fact that one is a Pharisee (the symbol for the righteous) and the other is a tax collector (the symbol for a sinner).

While they are there, the "righteous one" exalts himself proclaiming his status and his goodness. The sinner, just as we might expect, is contrite and honest in his status as one who does not deserve to even be present in the temple. Nothing is at all surprising in the story up to this point. If we didn't know the story already, and were reading it for the first time, this would be exactly how we would expect it to be.

Then a surprise. A proclamation. Jesus says, "I tell you, this man (meaning the sinner) went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted." In the end, the sinner is the righteous one because of the way he approaches God and his honesty in knowing the truth about his stature.

Today is Ash Wednesday, and many of us will go to the temple to pray. Perhaps today's story is a not-so-subtle reminder for us about how we might approach our worship? How will we wear our ashes?

We can wear them with a sense of pride as one who is righteous in faithfully attending worship as do all the "good" people. We can exalt ourselves telling others what we are giving up for Lent, and accept their praise for being so faithful and good. Or...

We might consider wearing our ashes as the sign of death that they represent. We can approach God knowing our vulnerability to death, and knowing that God is our only help. We can be honest about who we are, who we really are, as one who falls so fall short of the life we might hope to live. The ashes represent a stain, a blemish that reflects what we have really done with the gift of life that we have been given. We might consider being humble in wearing our ashes.

Then as we begin the season of Lent, perhaps we might hear a surprise. A proclamation from Jesus. For this is the only way to be justified. This way of wearing our ashes with humility is to be exalted before the Lord, and the only hope for peace in the midst of another season of prayer before our Lord.

Thanks be to God for another season of Lent. May you wear your ashes of death and resurrection.


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