Ironic that Mardi Gras, the huge celebration of the flesh (bacchanal, similar to Trinidad’s Carnival), held just before Lent each year, should involve the use of masks. Seriously funny, given Jesus’ admonition against assuming a persona to impress others or even oneself, a potential pitfall involved in seeking to apply any spiritual discipline to one’s life. The third reading for Ash Wednesday (Methodist hymnal lectionary, Matthew 6:16-19) records His words, “…when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting”: masking with a certain countenance to give a desired appearance… hmm.
Looking over my daughter’s shoulders last night, as she scanned for picts for face-painting, we were intrigued by the way facial structure affected the appearance of the figure painted over it. No matter how cute the cow, painted on the human face, the appearance was disturbing. Underlying factors, it seems, affect what’s seen on the surface… hmm.
No wonder Jesus underscored heart motive so thoroughly in these epic sermons in Matthew. The religious leaders’ observances were intended to impress others or themselves. Remember the example of the one described as “…pray[ing] with himself thus, ‘I thank you God that I am not like other men…'” Jesus urged His disciples, rather, to obey His Words out of a love for God. This undergirding manifests in earnest, private, devotional pursuit birthed out of one’s awareness of his total inability to do the good he desires in his own strength. The result of obedience thusly motivated is sweet communion with the Godhead. The Gospel of John is littered with such assurances. Chapter 14:20-26, for example, outlines promises such as the love and entrance of both the Father and Son into the Believer’s life, the promise of the Son manifesting Himself specifically, as well as instruction and enlightenment by the Holy Spirit; all in the secret place.
In a culture whose favourite Bible quote is “Thou shalt not judge”, Jesus here agrees except for the time factor. Through the Apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 4, He instructs, “judge nothing before the time, until The Lord comes who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the heart. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” Masks, held up, strapped on, painted on or assumed by grimace, have no lasting impression on the soul thus concealed, though the disturbance visited on the onlooker may be of some duration. Whereas a day in His courts or 40 in the wilderness can yield eternally wonderful transformation.