Matthew 25:34-40: "Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."Ash Wednesday can be a hard day for people, literally and figuratively. Some people are feeling the after effects of Fat Tuesday. Some people are beginning a Lenten Discipline. Some don't understand the spiritual implications of their choices. Some just get ashes because it's tradition. There are no "wrong" ways to observe Ash Wednesday, but there are certainly ways to have a deeper understanding of the day, and a spiritual life application of the day, should you want it.
As humans, we have a tendency to focus on our immediate, not our far-reaching. We focus on our most painful, not our longest-lasting. And we want immediate results, not deferred gratification that comes with process, and growth. Case in point: I'm having a hard day: difficult people, malice before speaking, homesickness, health and fitness goals, my attitude, small "obstacles" that just stream towards me with no end in sight... But: Is this really my existence? Is it my life? We don't always look to, or want, a spiritual answer. We don't want to pause, reflect, take a deep breath, and then make grown up choices and decisions. We don't want to hold our rage and pain inside, or hold our viciousness in check. We don't want to ensure that we are in Christ's service, and working in Christ's stead, versus our own desires and ambitions. All of that is not my end though. I have to remember that I do have a spiritual answer. I do have a prayer. I can rely on something bigger and outside of “me.” I have to realize that this is not my life. My life is not really my own any longer. Am I in service of myself? Or am I in Christ's service?
Take for instance, the example of Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. We know extremely little about Joseph. We know he worked in the building trade, including what we call carpentry. We know he could trace his ancestry back to the ancient royal house of David and Solomon. We know that Joseph faced a unique personal and moral challenge, and came through it with integrity and humility. Seriously, think how it was for him. Mary has news for him, news to send a chill down the spine of any prospective husband. How can he possibly believe her strange story? What will people say?
Then, Joseph has “the dream.” In it, it is made plain that Mary's story is true. What's more, she and her child are caught up, not just in a personal challenge, but in a much older, stranger purpose: God's purpose. God's rescue operation, long expected and at last coming true. But what if Joseph hadn’t? What if he wasn’t obedient, or didn’t participate?
Whenever God does something, He involves people — often unlikely people, frequently surprised and alarmed people. He asks them to trust him in a new way, to put aside their natural reactions, to listen humbly for a fresh word and to act on it without knowing exactly how it's going to work out. We, as Christians often stumble over the “how.” We expect the God of All Ages to submit His plan to us for approval and participation. We become petulant and difficult to ourselves, our fellow Christians, and to God when we feel left out of that divine vision. But, there are larger things at work in this world, and there are greater plans than I sometimes remember to focus on… I need to stop and consider the purpose of my life. What am I living for? Am I living to make money? Am I living to merely survive? Am I living, working, and slaving away so I can pursue my own interests or chase success? Am I putting energy into my friends and family? Am I letting ambition (even for good causes) be the focus, rather than the end goal?
All of these are worthy goals. No one wants to fail; no one wants to forsake their friends, family, loved ones... No one wants to give less than one hundred percent! All of these aims—even the last one, which sounds so selfless—are futile. The only goal of lasting value and fulfillment is serving Christ. As His followers, we should model our life after His. And Mark 10:45 tells us that "even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” We honor Him by doing likewise. Do you know of anyone that is hungry? Anyone that is thirsty? Do you know of someone that needs clothing? Do you know of someone in a prison that needs a visitor?
That's what God is asking all of us to do this Lenten season. Remember who you are, and walk in your calling; but always remember who God is, and that He isn’t required to gain your approval to complete His designs. Like Joseph, we may have to put our initial reactions on hold and be prepared to hear new words, to think new thoughts, and to live them out. We all come with our own questions, our own sorrows and frustrations, our own longings. God will deal with them in His own way, but he will do so as part of his own much larger and deeper purposes. Who knows what might happen, this year, if even a few of us were prepared to listen to God's word in scripture in a new way, to share the humility of Joseph, and to find ourselves caught up in God's rescue operation?