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SUNDAY SCRIPTURES FOR SEPT. 18 | Our motivations are truly seen by how we act when no one is looking

Practicing to become more trustworthy in small things will lead to being trustworthy in larger matters

Many of us spend a lot of time judging other people’s moral choices. We look at how people behave, how they live and what they choose, and we make our judgments by outside appearance. The Gospel for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time and the accompanying reading from the prophet Amos invite us to take more of an inward look at our own choices of trustworthiness and morality, instead of those of others.

Are you trustworthy in small matters? This invitation to introspection should lead us to the heart of what motivates us in life. Do we do things mostly so that other people see us and we appear to be good and holy in their eyes? Do we live one life in private and another in public? Do we treat people who seem to have more influence and power in a different way than we treat people who seem to be insignificant?

It is difficult to escape our public façade. We are so conscious of how other people view us that most of us put our best behavior on display while people are watching. We seem to be more conscious of what we should be doing, but not so conscious of why we’re doing it. Our motivations can be truly seen by what we do and say in times we think we are not being watched and observed. When it seems that no one is looking, we seem to descend to our worst behavior. Whether we are given back too much change when paying a bill or if our server at a restaurant forgets to bill us for a certain item, we are given a choice. How do we decide how to react? Does it seem to be OK to not say anything about it as long as we don’t appear to be a cheat? When we are approached by someone in need, does a reaction depend on whether someone is there to observe our behavior? Do we prepare ourselves better for a concert or a sports event than we do for going to Mass? What we call small or great can often determine our choices around that matter.

It seems clear that Jesus had an eye for people who appeared to be small or insignificant. Those that others were willing to walk by as if they didn’t exist became the center of attention for Jesus. He asked the religious people of His day how they could consider themselves to be holy and religious when they treated the poor and the marginalized in such a despicable way. Think back to several months ago when we began Lent. The Church begins the season of Lent by reminding us to go into our inner room and choose our habits of spirituality. It reminds us to give alms and fast in a way that doesn’t draw attention to ourselves. The Church reminds us that it is good to shed ourselves of the need to perform, as if that makes us good moral people.

What might be your first step in acknowledging the difference between your behavior when someone is watching and when nobody is? How will you begin to notice the small, insignificant and powerless people and events that Jesus is asking us to notice? How can we develop the practices that lead us to be trustworthy in small things, so that God can trust us in the bigger situations as well?

Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.

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