Today’s readings are very clear that discipline is an inside job. I noticed it first in the verse before the gospel which proclaimed, “Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, says the Lord, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” (EZ 18:31) This is different from the more familiar (to me anyway) line about God saying, “I will take from you your stony hearts and give to you natural hearts.” Today God is calling us to responsibility; we need to do the work of repentance, not just talk about it. In Psalm 50, God asks, “Why do you recite my statutes, and profess my covenant with your mouth, though you hate discipline and cast my words behind you?” That makes me think of the old adage, Say what you mean and mean what you say.
The gospel gives us another familiar line that moves the conversation from a consideration of our speech to action. He’s speaking to the crowds about the scribes and the Pharisees (the people in charge) but we can all take to heart the lesson: Practice what you preach from the descriptions of what Jesus is talking about. “For they preach but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they do not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen…They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.'” The advice of Jesus ends the reading and is a good reminder for all of us. “The greatest among you,” Jesus says, “must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (MT 23:1-12)
Just a caveat about that last quote. Jesus is not interested in us making ourselves “doormats” for people to walk over. He is talking about mature service and true humility, qualities that can never be faked because they come from the inside, not from any action we can perform. So today I will “watch my step” on this Lenten journey, making sure I’m not looking for applause but doing my best to be authentic in all I do for God and for those I meet along the way.