An Unpretentious HeartPosted by in Holiness & Prayer
“Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
If you visit fine buildings on college campuses, you will often discover a bronze plaque attesting to the generosity of some benefactor. “This science wing was made possible by a grant from the Wellmore Foundation.” “The Teahouse Auditorium was a gift from Mrs. Margaret Esther Teahouse.” Human beings can be very, very generous with their time and money. But they also like to be recognized for their donations.
Jesus told his disciples that his new law was tougher than the old law. People sometimes think that he made things easier by summing up all of the commandments into love of God and love of neighbor, but in reality love can be much more demanding than following a list of rules. He said that the old law forbade adultery, but the new law demanded purity of heart, including not even looking at a woman lustfully. He said that whereas the old law forbade murder, the new law prohibited anger with one’s brother and even the use of harsh language (see Mt5:20-28). In the same way, Jesus invited his followers to a great purity of intention and a disinterested heart.
When was the last time I did the right thing for the wrong reason?
Jesus recognized that we often do the right thing for the wrong reason. For instance, sometimes we pray publicly in order to be thought of as holy or pious. Sometimes, people give alms in order to be praised or thought of highly. And Jesus unmasked these practices, because he didn’t want our twisted intentions to deprive us of the rewards he has in store for us. His new law was all about having both our inside and our outside in line with God’s will. In his own words, he doesn’t just want us “good,” he wants us perfect!
Jesus himself gives a supreme example of this. He really didn’t care much what people thought of him. He didn’t care whether they praised him or censured him. He wasn’t looking for human approval at all and had no interest in being popular. That doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t care about other people; it just meant that their judgment of him didn’t carry much weight—he was much more concerned with what God thought of him. And so Jesus was free to say what needed to be said and to do what needed to be done. He didn’t trample other people’s feelings, nor did he allow human respect to keep him from doing the right thing.
Jesus knew that many times we fail to do the right thing for fear of what others will think or say. For example, in his gospel, St. John comments sadly on some Pharisees who honestly believed in Jesus but never became his disciples for fear they would be put out of the synagogue. And he adds, “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (Jn12:43). This is the big problem with vanity and human respect: we start caring more about people’s opinions and less about God’s.
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This happens in our own lives as well. How many times do we fail to say what should be said simply because we don’t want to be labeled a “holy Joe”? How many times do we keep our faith silent or compromise our own principles because we don’t want to be different from the rest? That’s why Jesus reminds us that we are salt, and salt is meant to taste different. In fact, he says, if it stops tasting different, it is no longer good for anything (see Mt5:13)!
In which areas of my life do I tend to care more about the respect of other people than the respect of God himself?
On the positive side, too, vanity makes us do things simply for ourselves and for the credit we will receive, rather than out of a pure desire to serve God and neighbor. That’s why Jesus invites us to quickly forget about our own good deeds and to stop looking for praise. He uses a bodily example: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Mt 6:3). He is referring specifically to almsgiving, but the maxim can be applied to many aspects of our life. Any time we are tempted to twist our good actions around for personal gain, we should hear the words of Jesus resounding in our soul. He reminds us that we don’t need that extra motivation. The Father’s love is enough for us!
Lord, what a beautiful example you give me! It is impressive to see your purity of intention. When I look at your life, I realize that you weren’t in it for yourself but for us. All your efforts, all your sacrifices, all your labors, all your struggles were not for you; they were for me! Since your love was pure, you were free to always do the right thing for the right reason. You loved simply, honestly, and without any second intentions. Thank you!
I know that I care too much for what others think of me. I desire their praise and their esteem, their affection and their appreciation. When I do something good for someone I like it to be recognized and feel hurt when I am not thanked. I also avoid situations where I could look stupid or uncool, and sometimes I don’t do what I should because I am afraid of what others will think of me. I am still a long way from where you want me to be!
Lord, I think the key is a greater love for God. If I realize that I am always in his presence and that his opinion is the only one that really counts, it will be easier for me to act with purity of intention. Let me love people very much but not care too much for what they think of me. I know I can’t please everyone, and the one I ultimately want to please is you!
Jesus, unpretentious of heart, make my heart more like yours!
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