At first glance, it might seem to us that Moses is advocating, in the First reading of today, what can be termed as a quid pro quo attitude or what may also be termed as an “If …then” way of proceeding. He seems, at first glance, to be saying that they will be rewarded if they obey and follow the commands that he gives them which have come from the Lord. However, this is certainly not so. What Moses is advocating instead, is an attitude of being true to oneself and the way to do this is to put into action the words that one speaks. It is an attitude of obeying the commands of the Lord. In other words, it means to do what one says. The reason why Moses does is because he is aware that this kind of attitude can have only one consequence and that is peace within oneself and thus, peace with everyone else. This is because it will show a sense of wisdom and discernment in the one who lives in such a manner. One who lives in this manner will live as a friend of God.
In the second part of the second reading, James says the same thing as Moses does, but in different words. He asks his readers to be, not merely hearers of the word, but doers. This “doing” has to be shown primarily in concern for the poorest of the poor and those who are regarded as the scum of society. However, even before this exhortation, he makes a noble theological statement. This is the basis and foundation for the “doing”. He affirms that everything that is good and perfect comes from the Lord who remains constant. This gift, that is good and perfect, was shown in the fullness of time in the Gospel but more than that, in the one who brought the Gospel, Jesus Christ the Son of God. It was in Jesus that God showed his faith in human beings in action. The appropriate response to such an unimaginable gift of God and his faith in us can be shown only in deeds and not words.
Jesus offers an invitation to such a response, in the Gospel text of today, to those who focus on the Law and not love, and to those who give too much importance to human traditions and not enough to what God deserves. The invitation and challenge is to move from lip service to heart service and to move from empty words to loving action. Even as he does this, Jesus invites the crowd who are listening to understand that it is not merely external action to which he is inviting them. The action that they are called to perform is a loving action and this is possible only if that loving action first finds root in one’s heart. If, instead, the heart is filled with selfishness, corruption, and negatives, then the actions that flow from such a person will not be very different from these attitudes and will break rather than build.
Thus, even if the focus in all three reading seems to be on DOING, it is not merely on doing that the focus lies, but on the kind of action that one will do. For Moses, the right kind of action is following the commands of the Lord as summarized in the Ten Commandments. These call for right action with God and the world. They call one to realize that every creation of God is precious and to be honoured. For James, the right action is expressed in reaching out tangibly and practically to the least of the members of Society and making them feel wanted and loved. For Jesus, the right action stems from the heart. Thus, one must always ensure that the heart is filled only with positives so that what comes out from there and into action will be positive. The German mystic, Eckhart von Hochheim, or as he was more commonly known, Meister Eckhart, put it wonderfully well when he said: “You should bother less about what you ought to do and think more about what you ought to be, because if your being were good then your works would shine forth brightly.”
This is not always easy to achieve as is evident from the Gospel text of today. All too often, we might make the mistake of focusing a little too much on the external action and not give enough thought to the inner disposition. Our focus might be, too often and largely, on the body and not enough on the heart. Like he called his listeners two thousand years ago, Jesus continues to call us to imitate him in having a pure heart from which the right actions will flow. This will result in our following the statutes and ordinances of the Lord and practicing a religion that is pure and undefiled. It will result in the world we live in becoming a better place and furthering the kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurated.