Fr. Charles Irvin
All of us know people of good character, people who have a reputation of being decent, respectful of others, law-abiders who lead good lives, or so they appear. We also know of some who, even though they enjoy a good reputation, turn out to be a whole lot less than we thought, some of them going on to bring terrible hurt to others and inflict real damage upon them. As the old saying goes, appearances are deceiving. Looking good does not mean that our hearts are filled with goodness.
The scribes and Pharisees had a certain kind of goodness, even holiness. Jesus did not condemn them for the goodness they sought, rather He condemned them for what they did not have in their hearts. They had no depth. They governed their thoughts and actions by their external observance of the Jewish laws and how they appeared in the eyes of others…The love of God and the love of others that flows from our love of God never filled their inner selves, never filled their hearts where they really lived. Lest we haughtily consider ourselves to be so much better than they were, we should take a look at ourselves. Do we govern our actions on the basis of what others will think of us? That’s superficial; it governs us on the basis of appearances. That motivation is external, not internal. It’s shallow and doesn’t come from deep down within us — where we really live.
Jesus wants His Holy Spirit to dwell deep within us, in our hearts and souls. It’s from there that our actions should begin. It’s from there that our motives are formed, motives formed in generosity and in the unlimited love and care of God, for ourselves, and for others…
On one occasion in another context Jesus was talking with His disciples about this. He said to them: “But what comes out of a person, that is what defiles. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” (Mark7: 20-23)…
Suppose we lived in a society where everyone strictly observed all of its laws. Everyone would behave well, but would such a world be filled with happiness? Jesus wants more from us. Living in strict observance of laws would be good, but would we be living in a world of love? Would it be a loving and caring world, or would it be simply a world in which nobody broke any laws? Jesus wants the best from us, not just our minimum performances.
God gave us a tremendous gift, the gift of freely choosing. This is because love isn’t truly love unless it is freely given – and freely received. After all, a gift isn’t a gift unless and until it is received. God has paid us a tremendous compliment in that He respects our decisions. That is why He never forces our decisions. He offers and then He waits for our response. His love for us is unconditional. His only law is love, a love within us that governs our choices and the actions that flow from our choices.
We all know full well what we do or do or don’t do. And we all know what others do or don’t do. God, however, is more interested in what He finds in our hearts. Do we simply obey rules, or do we choose to live in love and concern for others? That’s a question the answer to which can only be found deep down in your heart – where you really live….