Matt. 6:5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.”
Finally the heat wave scorching the rest of the nation made it up to New England. Tuesday I dressed for the prediction of mid-nineties temperatures with higher humidity levels and braced myself for my mile walk from the train station to my office. I came out of the station and was surprised to find it a bit cool. “It will be different coming back this afternoon,” I said to myself. But, if anything, it was even cooler on my walk back, making me almost wish for a light jacket.
Thankful that we had escaped and knowing that at my home on the South Shore it was always at least five degrees cooler than Boston, I looked forward to getting home. But when I got off the train at home, it was at least ten degrees warmer and brutally humid. Breathing was more like drinking than taking in air. Up in Boston, the wind was blowing off the water, bringing a welcome coolness to the air. But down by my house, the wind came over the hot earth and the much warmer bay, bringing the oppressive heat and humidity.
It really makes a difference where the wind is coming from. Which made me think of Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is warning people about, of all things, praying and fasting and giving alms. They’re all good things; all things the faithful should be doing. But Jesus is pointing out that it’s not just about doing what we should. The motivation for those things—the direction from which they come—is all important.
We see this every day. People do good things for bad reasons and sometimes even bad things for good reasons. That’s why there are spin doctors who try to make us think that the cool wind we feel is really hot or vice versa. But Jesus reminds us that God sees past the spin. Grand public prayers may impress the folks walking by, but God sees the real motive and rewards it accordingly.
We can never know what another person’s true motive is for doing something, although our courts spend a lot of time and effort trying to get as close as they can. But if we’re reading the Bible to find a way to judge someone else, then our own motives are suspect. The Bible has been preserved in order that Jesus might speak to us about ourselves and that we might get our own act together—take the log out of our own eyes before moving on to the specks haunting others. That verse is in the very next chapter.
Where is the wind blowing from in your life? What motivates you to do what you do? Would Jesus say you have already received your reward? It’s worth thinking about.
May the wind of your Holy Spirit blow across our lives, God, and make our motives pure. Amen.
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