By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
Once in a Blue Moon, a natural occurrence nearly every three years, the Gospel of Matthew flows seamlessly from Ordinary Time into Ash Wednesday. Since the Christmas season the church has been proclaiming our weekly Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount from the fifth chapter of Matthew. We are in Cycle A of our three-year rotation with the Gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke.
This year the timing was picture-perfect to go from chapter 5 into the traditional Ash Wednesday Gospel taken from St. Matthew’s sixth Chapter on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Recall that the Sermon on the Mount encompasses Chapters 5-6-7 in Matthew’s Gospel, the first book of the New Testament. The well-known words “repent and believe in the Gospel” or “remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return” as each person is marked with the ashes are the bridge to the Lenten season of conversion and new life in Jesus Christ. This is heaven-sent because the Sermon on the Mount is at the essence of the Lord’s standard for holiness of life, and an exceptional examination of conscience for our 40-day spiritual journey. Each chapter is brimming with God’s wisdom and by allowing Jesus’ words to find a home in our hearts and minds, and our actions will keep us firmly fixed on the road to life from on high .
Immediately following the Ash Wednesday Gospel on prayer, fasting and almsgiving is one of the Lord’s summary statements on storing up treasures in heaven. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth, rust and thieves are powerless.”
Why? “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (6:19-21)
As disciples of the Lord, the first foot forward is not about receiving pennies from heaven, as it is storing up treasures in heaven. “But seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
We are in the world and for sure, want to live a full life, but we are not of the world. “I have given them your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:11, 14-15.)
The treasures we are storing up in heaven are rooted in prayer, fasting and almsgiving, or generosity of life, walking on the path Jesus trod, in the desert overcoming temptation, and as a treasure trove of blessing in daily life.
The Ash Wednesday demand to repent and believe in the Gospel is the foundation of the Lord’s call in each of our lives. St. Mark’s Gospel, without the Infancy Narratives of Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, and the Prologue of John’s Gospel wastes no time over who Jesus is and what are the demands of his mission. “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1) Immediately after his identity is established Jesus sets out on his public ministry. “After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God saying, The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)
Jesus invites us to place our faith in him as the Son of God and to repent, embracing a life-long journey of conversion of mind and heart, of mindset and attitude. We have been buried with Christ in baptism so that we can die to self and rise with him each day. This is not a once in a Blue Moon display of ashes, but a way of living with a storehouse of treasures.