From the beginning God’s invitation of the people Israel, God’s invitation from the mouth of Jesus to form a people—the community, the church—and God’s ongoing invitation to us and to all people in every time and place, has never demanded wooden obedience. God desired from the beginning, now and in the future that people would engage God and one another from their hearts and respond with heartfelt concern.
We may frame God’s desire and humans’ response with the word, “motives.” Its an apt word because a quality of a motive is a reason for doing something, especially one that is hidden or not obvious. In law, for example, efforts to get at motives seek to make plausible why people acted in certain ways.
Our notion of law may blind us to the difference of God’s law. The practical aspects of God’s law sought to draw and keep people close to God and to have that effect on others. Torah, God’s law, affected human hearts: For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? That being so close is heart language, relational language, and relationship with God comes before, establishes, underpins, validates—use your word—all practical aspects of living God’s covenant.
Relationship with God—entering it or not; deepening it or neglecting it; making room for it or closing ourselves to it; living it or paying lip-service to God—relationship with God is the unfolding story of the bible as well as the unfolding life-story of each person. Relationship with God is also the unfolding story of a community of people striving to live their relationship with God.
Jesus took to task the Pharisees and some of the experts in torah, not because they failed to observe many practical aspects of torah— the Pharisees observed scrupulously! Jesus took to task the Pharisees and some of the experts in torah because their hearts were elsewhere. Their motives put themselves first, not God nor other people. Their self-centered motives also closed them to God’s ongoing invitation.
In Jesus’ words their self-centered motives moved their hearts...far from God, and using the words of James, the Pharisees were unable to humbly welcome God’s saving invitation. While others saw the Pharisees observe God’s commandment the motives of the Pharisees, in fact, disregard[ed] God’s commandment.
Fortunately, today’s gospel doesn’t describe us. However, it serves to alert us to how a motive may disfigure our intentions; how a motive may distance our hearts...from God; how a motive may make us less open and receptive to God’s invitation and God’s desire that we share God’s life for ever. Plus, if to ascertain motives in a courtroom demands diligent thought and effort, then to ascertain our own motives can be more demanding. When we stop discerning our motives we delude ourselves: we think we observe God’s commandment, when actually we disregard it and, what may be worse, we close our hearts and minds to God’s invitation to share God’s life for ever, beginning now.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, bask in the light of the Trinity creating you and inviting you to share divine life forever. Ask Mary and the saints to present you to Jesus. Speak with Jesus: as one friend to another thank Jesus for inviting you to join him and to make him better known by how you live. Ask Jesus for the grace to know yourself better and to recognize any motives, which keep you distant from him. Close by saying the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave us his prayer so that the more we pray it his prayer will shape us to do his word, rather than to hear it and quickly disregard it.