Reading: Matthew 6:1-6
“When you do good deeds, don’t try to show off. If you do, you won’t get a reward from your Father in heaven.” (CEV)
Does motivation matter? Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in “Judaism for Everyone” wrote, “Action is far more significant than dogma or belief. The right thing should be done even if for the wrong reasons.” I have real sympathy for his sentiment. We can wait too long to feel authentic in our action, instead of just doing the good we ought too. It is also true we can ‘act our way into being’. Isn’t this the insight of modern psychology? Changing our behaviour can lead to changing our thinking.
Yet Jesus’ criticises religious people of his day for being ‘hypocrites’. He calls them to account for their terrible attitudes. Does motivation matter? In Matt 6 Jesus speaks to 3 religious’ duties, he assumes his followers will be practicing: giving to the poor, prayer and fasting. He says if you to these activities to make yourself look better than others, do not expect to win favour with God. Jesus takes issue with using religious activity to seek personal glory. In contrast, the light of a true disciple’s good deeds in Matt 5 seeks the glory of God. Sadly, even pious activity can become another variation of idolatry and God will not commend people for it.
Motivation does matter. Jesus expects his followers to do the right thing, and he asks us to do what God is already doing and no one else can – assess our attitudes as we do so.