2018 – Cycle B
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25
What motives underlie the decisions you make in life?
Do we ever take time to consider our motives, what drives us, why we responded to a situation or person in a particular way?
The character of Thomas Becket in T. S. Eliot’s verse play, Murder in the Cathedral, struggles with four tempters. He angrily questions the fourth tempter: “Who are you, tempting with my own desires?” To be offered what we desire may be the worst and yet the most delicious of temptations. How often are our motives rooted in the lies we tell ourselves, the filters and history through which we experience life, confirming and supporting our own desires. Becket struggles not with outside tempters but with himself. He struggles to identify and purify his motives otherwise he will succumb to the greatest treason against God: “To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”
Thus why does Teresa of Kolkata struggle throughout her life in disbelief of God? Why does Jacob wrestle with – is it a divine being or himself – all night long? Why does Jesus ask his disciples what people think of him and grapple with his motives in the garden of Gethsemane? Why does the Christian spiritual tradition speak of, “dark nights of the soul”? …a sense of losing your way, tossing and turning in body and mind, darkness, physical and metaphorical in which people question themselves and seek what is in their hearts. Have you ever had such an internal struggle in your heart?
In this light, the gospel ends on an ominous note:
“Jesus knew all people and didn’t entrust himself to them.
Jesus never needed evidence about people’s motives;
he was well aware of what was in everyone’s heart.”
The gospels at times record that Jesus knew the motives of people. Matthew records Jesus’ anger, “Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?”” [Matthew 22:18] Consider how Jesus addressed the issues of motive by drawing on the ground in the presence of those who accused the woman caught in adultery. Whatever he wrote on the ground caused the leaders to reflect on their all too self-righteous motives, drop the stones they had in hand and walk away. [John 8:1-11]
Our motives under-gird our choices. They mark our lives. They are at the heart of the spiritual life and so Jesus frustratingly says to us,
“Listen to me, all of you, and try to understand.
Nothing that enters us from the outside makes us impure…
For it is from within – from our hearts – that evil intentions emerge,
promiscuity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
obscenity, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.
All these evils come from within and make us impure.”
[See Mark 7:14-23]
Isn’t it intriguing that what Jesus teaches comes out of our hearts as evil intentions are basically the Covenant of Sinai, what we call the Ten Commandments? Murder, adultery, theft rooted in greed and envy, bearing false witness, that is, slander and lies rooted in malice and envy, covetousness rooted in greed, envy, pride and foolishness.
The commandments, this covenant of Sinai, is not a list of “You shall nots” but a means of self – examination. Jesus will dig even further into the ground of motive. He teaches, anger is at the root of murder. Lust is that the root of adultery. Revenge is at the root of violence. The commandments are not a set of laws to be followed but a mirror to reflect back to us the motives of our heart. When we look into the commandments we are given an opportunity to see the truth of ourselves.
Are we willing to look?
Our tendency to not look in mirrors, except to maybe bolster our physical vanity, is significant. If we look into the spiritual mirror of self – examination and the Sacrament of Confession, knowing that Jesus already knows what we will see, is also significant.
What are we afraid we might see?
What do we see?
What is in our hearts?