February 26, 2020, Ash Wednesday. A reflection on Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Today is the beginning of the 40 days Lenten season and on our forehead is imposed molten ash moisture with the oil of catechumen with the priest reciting the formula, “Remember man that you are dust and to dust you shall return!”
In his latest admonition on the celebration of Ash Wednesday, Obispo Maximo Rhee Timbang expounds, “It is imposed on the forehead to symbolize the act of remembering, recalling and knowing which the function of the mind practically! It is imposed in the form of the cross, the symbol of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and mortality by his resurrection to new and eternal life. Imposition is so far the most biblical, consistent to the Genesis account of creation when Yahweh breathed upon the being he formed from the dust. Breathing implied aspersion of saliva to molten the dust. Same consistency in the gospel when Jesus mixed the dust he took from the ground with his saliva and placed it upon the eyes of the blind person he healed.”
Now on my reflection. Let me deal first on verse 1a of today’s Gospel, “Beware of practicing your piety before others to be seen by them;” It reminds me of my favorite song of Dong Abay of the rock band Yano, “Banal na Aso, Santong Kabayo” because of its very profound biblical and theological message. The song deals on two scenes; the first was portraying a woman on a public utility jeepney who was praying the rosary with closed eyes showing her very deep religiosity but has to murmur and say bad words against the driver because the latter did not stop at the convent as it was not allowed based on a road traffic regulations. The second is portraying on a man preaching in the street, presumably collecting money, who transferred to the other corner after refusing to give to a poor kid asking for a little money to buy food. “banal na aso, santong kabayo” which in English holy dog, a horse saint is a Tagalog saying which could be understood as a hypocrite or acting in hypocrisy. The bridge part of the song is a conclusion or a revelation of the message it wants to convey to the Christians and religious people, “ano man ang yong ginagawa, sa iyong kapatid ay siya ring ginagawa mo sa akin” which in English “Whatever you do to least of the brethren, you do it to me” in Matthew 25:31-46, the Judgment day. Funny though, many religious people are rather much offended by the way this song is interpreted by Dong Abay aside from it being a rock band, it also sounds silly insult with great sarcasm. Please listen to the song, via https://youtu.be/lD9KCq93Jbg
Secondly, may I say that one of the famous prophetic statement that retains in me as a social advocate is that of Isaiah in our old testament reading today, 58:6, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” This is also the favorite biblical text of my friend who is a lawyer and now retired labor arbiter a big poster of this is hanged in her living room. She’s not a regular church-goer – that is if she does, but her service to the people guided by this biblical passage surpasses those of church-goers and even those in the ordained.
Isaiah’s kind of fasting has something to do with justice and freedom with four tasks to be done – 1) loose the bonds of injustice, 2) undo the thongs of the yoke of oppression, 3) let the oppressed go free, and 4) to break every yoke. These are the most necessary response and duties of God’s people during his time to the situation of his society and very undeniably to the kind of society that we also have.
Today as we reflect on our fasting and in living out the Lenten season, we are challenged to be like Dong Abay of Yano and prophet Isaiah. Let our voices afflict those hypocrites and oppressors in society. Let us be silly and sarcastic to insult those who are in power who pretend to be honorable and venerable in the society and even as we do it within the churches as we also do it upon ourselves – our levels of hypocrisy and oppressions towards other human beings.
Paraphrasing the words in the imposition of ashes, “remember oh, mortal that we will all die” and so let us spend our lives for the good of everyone especially those oppressed, marginalized sectors of our society.
Until next for the First sunday in Lent