Remember that you are dust - Ash Wednesday Year A
By: Father Jim Donohue CR, posted: 2014-03-03
As Catholics receive the mark of ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday, they will hear the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This exhortation comes from Genesis 3:19 when God announces the punishment for the man: “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
This punishment came as a result of the man’s choice to use his freedom poorly. There was only one command that the man and woman must obey: “You are free to eat from any of the trees in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die” (Gen 2:16-17). Neither God nor the author of Genesis justifies the prohibition; it is the commandment of God, pure and simple.
Humans are creatures, and not God, and there are some things that remain a mystery to them. The question is about their willingness to trust in God’s plan for them. Can they trust that God will provide for them in God’s time and in God’s way, or do they need to grasp on their own what ultimately would be freely given to them? The “original sin” that this story reveals is that humans have a deep desire within them to be masters of their destiny; they cannot trust that God will in fact provide for them. Humans are not content to be creatures that must trust, but rather prefer to be “like gods.”
When God created humanity, God gave humanity a great gift—freedom—because God wants a willing partner, one who chooses God in freedom. But unlike God, humans are creatures, not knowing all things. As creatures they are called to use the gift of freedom to trust that God’s plan for humanity will be brought to fruition in God’s time and in God’s way.
So, the exhortation that we hear as we receive ashes reminds us that we are creatures and that we are not God. May our Lenten practices assist us to grow in our trust—not in ourselves or in the things that we make gods of—but in the one who loves us and will provide for us in all that we need!