Reflections: Ash Wednesday

Today’s Reading: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Daily Lectionary: Genesis 1:1-9; Mark 1:1-13


“Moreover, 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.” (Matthew 6:16)


In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. It’s not hard to imagine what the social media accounts of the  Pharisees would have looked like if Twitter or Facebook had existed back in Jesus’ day: Humble brags. Pre- and post-Sabbath Day selfies. More holy hashtags than spots on a dalmatian. Jesus’ words here in Matthew 6 reveal that virtue signaling was just as popular in the first century as it is now. The Pharisees were obsessed with the man in the mirror. They loved showing off their holiness like Joseph and his coat of many colors. They liked to strut their righteousness like a peacock through the streets. 


The problem, however, goes much deeper. What Jesus was teaching His disciples then, and is teaching us now, is that the problem of our sin, and its solution in Jesus’ sacrifice for sin, is far more than skin deep. Jesus warns His disciples then, and us today, that underneath those furrowed brows and disfigured faces there is a far greater, more disfigured sinful heart that is wicked above all things.


The problem, Scripture tells us, isn’t just with the Pharisees. It’s our problem, too. There dwells within each of us a little Pharisee, our Old Adam, as Luther called it. Behind all unrighteousness is self-righteousness. Behind self-righteousness is the First Commandment. We do not fear, love, or trust in God above all things. Like the Pharisees, we constantly look to our own thoughts, words, actions, and emotions to justify ourselves before others, and before God. That’s why Ash Wednesday is a good day. We’re reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return. That all our righteousness is like a filthy rag. We’re also reminded that though our sins were as scarlet, Christ has made them white as snow. And though our unrighteousness is great, the righteousness that is given to us in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is far greater. Be of good cheer, yes, even in Lent. For your righteousness isn’t found in the mirror or on your social media feed. It’s found in Jesus crucified and risen for you. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.


Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of Thee, the God of all mercy, remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Collect for Ash Wednesday)


-Rev. Samuel Schuldheisz is pastor of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Milton, WA.

Audio Reflections Speaker: Rev. Duane Bamsch

Learn more about your favorite hymns and find the deeper meaning behind the text with Eternal Anthems: The Story Behind Your Favorite Hymns. The book includes devotional commentary and historical facts from forty different contributing authors on fifty different hymns. Now available from Concordia Publishing House.