“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” Matthew 6:1
The word “piety” rings with a negative tone in most ears. One who we describe to be pious is not one we hope to be. We know the pious one to be overly centred on the self, showing a false face, only concerned with the outward gestures.
There are two kinds of piety. The word comes from the Latin which means “dutiful” or “devout.” There is physical piety, what we see. It’s the piety we like to detect and tips us off that someone may not be the real deal. There’s also spiritual piety, what’s going on on the inside. Neither are a bad thing, it’s the connection between the two that Jesus talked about.
The connection between what’s happening inside and what happens outside is rather fascinating. The Church has long taught that if we discipline ourselves to walk the walk of faith, those actions can actually usher our souls towards a right spirit. Attend worship even when you don’t feel like it; read your Bible as a daily routine, give to the charitable works of the church even if you can think of something better to spend your money on. But still, lots of us are cautious of making the sign of the cross in public, kneeling or folding our hands to pray, being seen entering the church on a weekday. What will others think? They might think I’m …. pious. In fact, one result may well be, that you indeed become so. Praise the Lord!
What happens inside and outside can be connected. Its also quite possible that an inner spiritual piety actually shows on the outside. Being spiritually devout – pious, will affect our actions. We’ll exert effort to execute acts of kindness, be actively involved in seeking justice, do for others, all because our outside reflects who and what we are on the inside. Its when our spirits take the steering wheel and do direct our bodies.
It was this connection that Jesus was speaking about in the latter part of his Sermon on the Mount. Beware of those who are pious only on the outside. Obviously it was a problem then, just as it can be today. Its not about the show, Jesus says.
What he doesn’t say is that we shouldn’t strive towards piety. Being pious is a good thing. A good thing if what’s happening outside mimics what’s going on inside. “Don’t disfigure your faces so as to show others you are fasting.” I’ve heard many often try to make this verse say something it doesn’t. Some use that verse as their reason not to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. “Jesus said so,” they say. Well, no he didn’t.
Ashes are an ancient sign. Christians for centuries have worn the dust of the ash as a reminder that we are but dust. Today you’re invited to share in that sign if you choose. And for those of us who do, we might remember the instruction of Jesus, may our outward piety image the piety of our hearts and vice versa. Jesus said, “Beware … beware of practicing your piety before others … in order to be seen by them.”