I’m Ready For My Close-Up!Fr. Barnabas Powell
“What’s my motivation?” It’s the question every actor has to ask when they are trying to get into character. What motivates this person to do what he does? Why is this person reacting this way to this situation? And the reason this is so important to an actor is because if you can understand someone’s motivation, you can empathize with them! And an actor has to be able to empathize with the character he or she is playing if the work is to be believable!
What’s true for an actor getting into character is also true for me if I’m ever going to understand myself. What’s my motivation? Why do I react the way I do to this or that situation? Why is this word or action a trigger for me to feel fear, anger, love, etc.? All of this is vital information if I am ever going to be “awake” enough about myself to navigate my life well. Plus, knowing what motivates me helps me understand just how my faith affects my life. But let’s be honest, if we were to do a serious inventory of our motivations we may discover that our faith really doesn’t affect our actions as much as we might like. But even that is useful information.
Let’s go a step further and insist that this scrutiny of motives is absolutely essential and at the heart of our purposeful practice of our Orthodox faith. In fact, the whole point of our faith is to so mold our motivations that the character of Christ will be formed in each of us. And this transformation starts with my motives.
In today’s Gospel Lesson our Lord Jesus and His disciples shine an uncomfortable light onto the spiritual poverty of reducing our relationship to God to mere rule keeping. The disciples are hungry and it’s the sabbath. No work is suppose to be done on the sabbath. But as the disciples walk through a grain field, they pick some of the grain and eat it. This “breaking the rules” by the disciples uncovers the motives in the hearts of all around.
Read this: At that time, Jesus was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.”
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch it out,” and his hand was restored. Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-5
The Lord is confronted by the really pious religious leaders who rebuke the Lord for allowing His disciples to “break the rules” of the sabbath, and the way the Lord deals with this instructs us in how to deal with our own spiritual growth and maturity. The Pharisees were motivated by obedience to ideas and the Lord was motivated by love for the other. The revelation of motives here allows the Lord a wonderful teaching moment to make two very important distinctions in His actions and His words.
The first distinction is the “rules” were made for man, not man for the rules. Actually, it is instructive in our Orthodox tradition that we don’t refer to the directions or the disciplines of the faith as “rules.” We refer to this body in teaching as “wisdom.” The Lord makes it clear that the wisdom of the sabbath disciplines are meant to generally change our thinking and actions about priorities of our lives, not to become straightjackets that prevent us from doing good or loving our neighbors. Wisdom is exactly that; wisdom. A wise man embraces wisdom and doesn’t try to reduce his relationship with God or others to mere rule keeping. The motive for obedience is love of God and love of the other, not love of the rules.
The second distinction is equal to the first. The Lord doesn’t say the wisdom is useless! Or that it should be changed or discarded! The Lord reminds these Jewish leaders that even King David allowed a higher wisdom to govern his behavior when he and his men were hungry. They ate the bread in the temple that was exclusively reserved for the priests. Then the Lord healed a man with a withered hand in the synagogue showing that being loving toward another is always a higher and greater wisdom than disciplines that might technically be obeyed to the detriment of others. The wisdom of the Faith was made for man, not the other way around.
Today, what motivates you in your faith? Is it fear? That’s great when you’re in kindergarten. This will protect you from the “hot stove” of mistakes. But when you grow up, fear enslaves rather than sets free. Your motivation has to grow up as well! It has to become love rather than fear. Is your faith motivated by the hope of rewards? Again, that’s great when you’re three years old and you pick up your toys so you can have the treat, but as an adult your motivation has to “grow up” here as well. Maybe your faith is primarily motivated by habit? This isn’t bad, but it is rarely ever enough. No, today your motives have to grow up. Your life of faith has to be motivated by higher realities and you have to do a regular “check in” to make sure your motives are serving you well rather than keeping you childish! Today, what motivates you?
P.S. If you missed last night’s Faith Encouraged LIVE program on the Second Coming, you missed a good program! I am so grateful to my special guest, His Grace, Bishop David for his insights and wisdom that helped us learn the wise and sober insights of our Orthodox faith concerning the Last Days! Here’s a link so you can listen http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/faithencouraged/even_so_come_lord_jesus