In his book ‘Seeking Spirituality’ Ronald Rolheiser tells the story of an idealistic young sister. This sister lived a life of high moral principles, a simple existence forgoing many of life’s luxuries, deep prayer and serving the poor, working hard in the process. One week this sister attended a Religious Conference. All the participants had worked hard at the Conference day and night for four days. The Conference leader acknowledged this and said that there was a change of plan for the fifth day. The afternoon and the evening for that day were going to be free. Many of the participants were delighted but this young sister was not. The group toured around the city. This sister went along but was miserable the whole day. In her words she put up with the shopping and the drinking of alcohol at a café in the afternoon but rebelled when they stopped in the evening to have dinner at the Holiday inn. In protest she walked out and decided to sit on the bus until the others finished their dinner so they could all go home. As she sat there for a long time she asked herself one question: “Would Jesus be in there eating and drinking and having a good time?” She came to the conclusion that he definitely would be. She subsequently realized that a part of her had become cold. She understood that it was no good to live a life of good moral principles, deep prayer, commitment to the poor and living simply if she was not living all of her life with a good heart as well. At the end of the Conference she shared this story with everyone saying that in realizing this God had given her a great grace that week.
Today we hear Jesus challenging the scribes and the Pharisees. Like the young sister they seemed to be trying to adhere to what God wanted. However in the process they were living a faith that had gone cold. They were living a joyless and sterile existence and looked down on anyone else who were not following all the rules of the Torah like they were.
In taking the stance he did Jesus was not saying that laws are unimportant. What he was saying is that they should not become an end in themselves. This was the mistake the Pharisees made. Jesus’ view is not only should be doing the right things but we should be doing them for all the right reasons. The intention we have in our hearts really what makes who we are. Jesus invites us today to a critical self- examination of conscience to see whether or not we are doing the right things for the right reasons. For instance can we say that our hearts are really close to God or are we offering lip service only? Are we guilty of only taking care of the externals and neglecting the quality of our minds and hearts? Where there is a lack of balance Jesus calls and challenges us to get our priorities right.