We’re six days into a season of the church year that requires some level of personal commitment. That’s an ironic thing to write, huh? That we are six days into a church season that requires personal commitment? Doesn’t every day of every season of the church year require personal commitment? But irony and the church know each other well.
Lent begins with an ironic twist every year when, on Ash Wednesday, a deacon or priest reads a passage from the gospels about not practicing one’s piety in a way that can be seen by others just moments before we rub black ashes on our (mostly white) foreheads. Maybe we need to come up with some invisible ashes.
In the Gospel passage that marks the beginning of Lent every year Matthew’s Jesus is insistent that believers practice their piety in way that is secret and that when they do so their father, who sees in secret, will reward them. Part of what Matthew is up to here is making a point about the hypocrisy that often accompanies our prayers and the fickle nature of our committments, especially the ones we make out loud. I get it.
But when I look at my own life I find that the place where my hypocrisy looms largest is behind closed doors, when nobody is looking. I’m not making a grave confession here I’m just saying that the covenants that I am most likely to break are the ones that I’ve only made with myself, or with my God. My lover, my friend or my Christian neighbor, as it turns out, aren’t any better at reminding me that I’m falling short of my commitments than I myself or my God is but when they know what those commitments and promises are they are much better at holding me to them and helping me keep them.
Lent or not, no matter what sort of promises or commitments we have made, the chances that we can keep them are better if we don't keep them to ourselves.