“And Jesus said to the Pharisees and scribes, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” – Mark 7:1-23
This point in Lent, about halfway through, is a good time to be reminded of the fact that Lenten observance and Lenten discipline, while useful, can become an obsession or a distraction to true faith in God. At times, Christians become so focused on their particular Lenten practice that they forget the point of the exercise! The reason we have Lenten disciplines is to return our hearts to God—not to accomplish a good work for which we can be proud or boastful. If you keep your Lenten observance completely and faithfully— it doesn’t get you any closer to heaven. The real question is: Has it brought you closer to God?
How’s your Lenten discipline going? Have you given up altogether? Has it been too much for you? Have you stumbled—once, twice, many times? Did Lent sneak up on you so that you never really got around to planning a special Lenten observance? You are no greater or lesser a Christian, by your Lenten practice. What matters, really, is not outward observance, but inner transformation. And that’s not your work, it’s the work of God, through His Holy Spirit in you.
We see Jesus regularly rebuking the Pharisees and scribes for focusing only on outward observance, external religious practices that consumed their lives. They criticized Jesus and His disciples for not keeping these perfectly. And yet, Jesus reminds them that the spiritual life is not about keeping human teachings, not about honoring God with our lips only, while our hearts are far from Him. What God desires is a close, personal relationship with His children—a relationship of the heart! May this season of Lent bring us, first and foremost, back into a right relationship with God our Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord!
O LORD our God, create in us clean hearts, and renew a right spirit within us; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prepared by Rev. Dr. David Wendell, North American Lutheran Church