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Preaching Without Prejudice: Lenten Tips

Lent and Holy Week are times for Christian teachers and preachers to be particularly vigilant in their handling of the lectionary readings, in order to avoid subtle messages that do harm to the Jewish people and their traditions.

For example, where the Gospel depicts Jesus as saying, "Do not imitate the hypocrites" (Mt 6:16), we can take care to avoid sweeping statements that suggest the 'hypocrisy' of ancient Judaism (this would be a serious misuse of the text), and instead point out that Jesus critiques elements of his own tradition, from within, as a faithful Jew. All religions are prone to the ‘hypocrisy’ described by this text.

We can also highlight the positive ways Jewish society is depicted in the Gospels. For example:

“But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right hand is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:3-4).

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are traditionally part of the Church’s season of Lent. All three are mentioned in the Gospel of Ash Wednesday (6:1-6,16-18). Presented there is a picture of the Jewish community to which Jesus belongs, a community which takes for granted the importance of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Jesus calls for these actions to be undertaken in a spirit of humility. This teaching was, and continues to be, integral to Jewish understanding. For instance, in the Talmud we read:

‘One who gives charity in secret is greater than Moses’ (Baba Bathra 9b).

‘Humility is the greatest virtue of all’ (Abodah Zara 20b).

Recall, too, a theme resounding in the Hebrew scriptures:

‘True sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit’ (Psalm 51:17).

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