How many of us believe that we live in luxury?
How many believe that they “have it made”?
Do you think that life is hard or that you struggle more than others to get by?
The truth is – for those of us who live in the United States – the vast majority of us who are here right now, and most of the people we know, have more “stuff” at our disposal than anyone else in the history of the world.
We have more money available to us than over 90 percent of the rest of the world’s population; we have so much food that supermarkets and restaurants throw away completely edible food (and we often let stuff go bad in our fridges on a regular basis); while we bemoan the “healthcare crisis,” the truth is that we have access to the best care in the world (whether we can pay for it or not); most people have so much leisure time that “vacation season” is practically all year long and not relegated to the summer anymore.
I could go on, but the point is that we in America really do have it good. Those of us who think we don’t really only feel that way because we are comparing ourselves to our neighbors, relatives, and celebrities. If we were to compare ourselves to the average person in, say, Bangladesh or Haiti, then we look like gods on earth. It really is a matter of perspective.
And that perspective is what today is all about. On Ash Wednesday, as we begin the holy season of Lent, we recognize that we – like every other human being who has lived, is living, or will live – are nothing more than dust; and we shall return to that same dust – just like everyone else, rich or poor, famous or obscure.
Lent is not a time t compare ourselves to others, nor is it a time to show off our agonies or ecstasies. Rather, it is a time to compare ourselves with Jesus. When we observe this season of preparation for Easter, we need to look within and see how well we are reflecting the glory of the resurrection. It is the image of the risen Lord that we are looking for, nothing less.
Therefore, Jesus instructs us to look within – to “go to our inner room,” and to prepare in secret, where only God can see us. And God sees us as we are – not with our fancy clothes, or our bank accounts, or our free time. He simply sees you: the person He made and loves more than anything else. God made you to look like Jesus, not Prince William, or Beyonce, or Chris Hemsworth – and not only that, He created you to be conformed to Christ in His risen glory. That is where we are all headed – whether we are the Jeff Bezos, Donald Trump, or a Honduran refugee girl who hasn’t had a bath in two weeks.
Lent gives us the opportunity to detach ourselves from those things that the world tells us matter. The things that others say dictate our worth are no more than dust and vapors in the grand scheme of God’s plan. Even we are merely ashes in the making; however, through Jesus we are called to so much more. We are called to the glory of Easter, just as He has been; and our faithful celebration of this season helps us to realize how close we are to that reality.
Today, these ashes are not marks of shame; instead, they are symbols of how high we have been called – out of the dust, to the heights of heaven. That is what Easter is all about. And as we enter this time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we are reminded that no matter what we have or don’t have, God loves us so much more than we can know: ashes and all.