Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Lent and God’s economy of salvation

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

The Gospel proclaimed on Ash Wednesday is taken from the beginning of Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-18. The intermediate verses (7-15), which recount Jesus teaching the disciples to pray the Our Father, are omitted. Removing these verses results in a smoother flow in the presentation of the three penitential practices, as equal attention is now given to them. But this editing of the original text also draws our attention to the fact that almsgiving, praying and fasting share a common trait. All involve some kind of “recompense,” “repayment” or “reward,” words that appear seven times in this short passage.

“Recompense” is the first in this seven-word series. It is a word that usually refers to compensation or indemnification for an injury or loss suffered. So, what Jesus seems to be saying here is that when we give alms, pray and fast, God takes into account that it cost us something and so we need to be compensated. Indeed, giving alms costs us financial resources. Praying takes some of our precious time. Fasting risks our nutritional well-being, or in a sense we die to our appetites.

As such, these penitential practices have nothing to do with imposing suffering on ourselves to make up for our sins or to appease an angry God, a theme present in various cultural mythologies. Rather, these sacrifices create an opening for God, whose mercies are never exhausted, to bless our lives more fully. What we give up is nothing compared to how much God will compensate us with blessings beyond what we would otherwise experience.

It’s natural for us to wonder how much money we can donate to worthy causes. For some, almsgiving can be a real challenge to their financial well-being. Others with more resources may also pause at the thought of parting with their material wealth. But when we do give alms, we are often filled with the joy of helping others. Consider prayer. I have never found that prayer is a waste of time, as though it keeps me from attending to the demands of daily life. Rather, prayer gives me more time to do the things that really matter, freeing me from wasting time worrying about things I cannot control or spending time on useless diversions. So too with fasting. The day after I abstain from that dessert, wine or meat on Friday, I don’t experience a profound sense of loss. Rather, I feel a sense of satisfaction in coming to learn that there are deeper ways that God is nourishing my life.

As we enter the season of Lent, Jesus is calling us to give alms, pray and fast because he wants us to experience God’s life and blessing. Jesus is inviting us to trust that God will more than make up for any loss we suffer, any sacrifice we make. All of this occurs as we prepare to celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, in which he teaches us how God exchanges life with us. Jesus totally empties himself, gives up everything including his very life, trusting that the Father will bring him to a life that never ends, compensating him and all humanity in ways we never could have imagined and that will never end. We are to have that same trust in God, Jesus tells us: “Whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it in eternity” (cf., Matthew 10:29).

This is how God exchanges our life for his. It is God’s economy of salvation.  



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