FRIDAY AFTER ASH WEDNESDAY

March 3, 2017

 

EYE SERVICE SPIRITUALITY

 

Isaiah 58:1-9a;

Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19;

Matthew 9:14-15

by *Mr. Kingsley Madubuike, SJ


'Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?' (Isaiah 58:3)

I live and work in a Jesuit secondary school. My life and work in this school involve a lot of interaction with school children. And that can be both interesting and a learning process. One thing I have observed about our school children (and perhaps children elsewhere) is their ability to impress adults and seek some form of attention. This may not be wrong in and of itself. These children, however, can be superficial in their activities either because they desire some positive reinforcement or they are trying to curry some favour and friendship with their teachers and school administrators.

God's people in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah are not much different from our school children. They lament that their spiritual activities consisting of fasting and humbling of oneself in prayer go without any notice or acknowledgement by the Lord GOD. It is easy to spot out here that this kind of spirituality is quite superficial and childish. It is a spirituality that seeks attention and rewards or compensation for the spiritual activities done. It is a kind of spirituality that is neither deep and flows from within nor does it go any more than the mere actions of fasting and praying. This kind of spirituality is activity based and not transformational. At its best, it is a trade by barter spirituality and an eye service or "notice me" spirituality.

The same attitude is almost what we see the disciples of John display in our Gospel reading. They seem to have a problem with the fact that Jesus and His disciples are not observing the ritual fasting that is part of the Jewish religion. This attitude can possibly reduce people to mere observants. In this sense, religious disciplines like fasting and prayers become external activities which do not come from the beings of the adherents of such religions. Jesus is quick here to correct this attitude by alluding that what is of more importance in religion is not to simply observe religious disciplines but to build relationships with persons and especially with God.
Contrast all these attitudes of God's people and the disciples of John with that of the psalmist in Psalm 51. Tradition attributes this psalm to King David; his prayer of repentance following his sin of adultery and the intervention of the prophet Nathan. David had tried to cover up his sin with Bathsheba by sending the husband Uriah to a fierce battle field where he was slain.

The psalmist here is a broken man who cries out from the deepest recesses of his being in a prayer of true and profound repentance to God. He begs God to consider his broken and humbled heart and his willingness to turn away from his iniquity. This should be the disposition of a real Christian in observing practices like fasting and prayer, and the likes. This psalm indeed underscores the point that God is not interested in the externals of sacrifices and burnt offerings but in the interior life of constant repentance and friendship with God (Cf. v.16-17).

How different are we from the people in our first reading or the disciples of John in our Gospel reading? We live in a Christian era where fasting, prayers and other religious activities are either done with careless abandon or have become baits to twist God's arms and get Him to do our biddings. These religious observances no longer help in our engagement with the interior life but are now focused more on the acquisition of material things and getting back at our perceived enemies. During this holy season of Lent, we may run the risk of fasting, praying and giving alms without them having any effect on our lives as Christians. We also may fall into the temptation of competing in carrying out the traditional pillars of Lent (fasting, abstinence and almsgiving) and standing in judgement of those who may not be living up to our expectations in these regards.

The grace we are invited to ask of the Lord on this day of Lent and throughout this season is to allow our external observance of Lent to become incarnational in our day-to-day lives of repentance, conversion, compassion, generosity, sensitivity, justice and service. May the Lord GOD of mercy grace us thus.

*Mr. Kingsley Chikwendu Madubuike, SJ, is a Jesuit Regent and works as the Vice Principal, Student Life, at Jesuit Memorial College (JMC) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. 

 

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