Am I Sincere or Superficial? – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
What is the motivation behind our actions? Do we do certain things for show? Is it important for us to be seen by others as doing good things, so that we are held in high esteem? From where comes our motivation? From within, from the honesty of our hearts? Or from a desire to be seen as doing the right thing?
One path is the way of sincerity; the other is the way of superficial actions. There can be multiple motivating issues going on within us.
The reality is that there are generally mixed motives: a combination of sincerity and superficiality. As a simple illustration, I know that a fringe benefit of helping others is that people will speak well of me. We are likely being sincere, but that is not how everyone will see it.
Some people will say, “Oh! She is just doing that to draw attention to herself.” “He is only holding the door open so that others will see him as the more polite than the rest of us.”
Most of our good deeds are probably just that – good and sincere, with no ulterior motive. We see someone in need and spontaneously jump up and offer to help. For most of us, it is accidental that our actions cause others to speak well of us, or to compare us to others.
The Gospel today is an invitation for us to examine the motivation with which we do things. Jesus contrasts those who “do all their deeds to be seen by others” and to be treated with respect, with those who see themselves as one among other brothers and sisters.
The difference is that the latter recognize that they “have one instructor, the Christ.” That is what humility is. It is knowing that I’m not the only person who has done something.
I like the words of the poet, Maya Angelou: “Humility is knowing your place in the world. … It’s understanding that you are not the first person who has ever done anything important.”
Humility is radical honesty. It is not at all being a shrinking violet. Humility comes from within a person. The evening that Pope Francis first was introduced to the world, he showed a humble side when he asked for a blessing from the people, rather than started by extending a blessing.
Francis has given evidence over and over that he sees himself as one among many others, a sinner who tries not to play the judge, precisely because he knows that he is as much a sinner as his neighbour.
Who can possibly forget his now-famous words: “Who am I to judge!”
The attitude of seeing myself as one among others in my attitude and behaviour is the complete opposite of the scribes and Pharisees in the Gospel.
There are many people out there who will judge, even as they pretend not to. But honesty and humility means that I can be bold and confident and courageous, because I truly know that it’s not about me and proving myself right. It’s about something much more important.
Psalm 131 is offered in today’s scripture. It’s long been one of my favourites. I return to it when I feel the need for peace, in the same way that others might recite the famous Serenity Prayer (God, grant me the serenity …). I refer to it when I am in turmoil or indecisive, when I am anxious or worried.
“But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.” That image of the calmed and quieted soul is no joke. I’ve recited it as a mantra before many an event that might otherwise cause anxiety.