One of the greatest directors in film history was Alfred Hitchcock. His dry wit made him as special as his quirky imagination and love of the unexpected. His comebacks were priceless at times; his advice on making movies was: “Give them pleasure—the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.” When a woman complained to him the murder scene in Pschyo made her daughter stop showering, he responded: “Then, madam, I suggest you have her dry cleaned.” One of the ways he dealt with actors: “When an actor comes to me and wants to discuss his character, I say: ‘It’s in the script.’ If he says, ‘But what’s my motivation?,’ I say, ‘Your salary.’” He wasn’t one to mince words or indulge in nonsense.
Jesus didn’t get into much nonsense either, at least, not without a point. He definitely wasn’t out to get rid of the 10 Commandments or the prophetic tradition of Judaism. The spiritual journey wasn’t about making up your own rules according to Him. Part of his point is a bit crazy: if we followed His advice literally most of us would be called ‘Lefty’ and wear eyepatches. Thank goodness this is hyperbole: our right hands, right eyes or any other part of our bodies has minds of their own. The only mind we have to worry about is between our ears, and if part of our body wants to do something crazy, the motivation is there.
He wasn’t about just following the letter of the law. His examples are about the motivation for justice, the motivation for obedience. Divorce happened in Jesus’ day: a Jewish man could divorce his wife for many different reasons, including being a bad cook. It meant the woman was sent back to her family, property sent back to its original owner with the deal cancelled, and she got to start over. If she wasn’t married afterward she could be in dire straits, living a life of poverty and degradation if her family couldn’t find another husband for her. There weren’t any cooking schools, either.
Staying true means not entertaining or feeding temptation. Staying moral means having an attitude that doesn’t let our eyes wander, our imaginations run dangerous directions for long periods of time, obeying the letter of the law but having a different fantasy life inside. Taking an oath was a public statement, and involved a lot of posing as well as legalism when the oath became inconvenient. The simplicity of just saying what’s necessary, just saying yes or no without qualifications or demonstrations reflects a deeper integrity. Posing isn’t necessary to make an honest commitment.
We need to learn the spirit of the law as well as the letter. Without the spirit of guidance, which is a better translation of the Jewish term Torah than Law, following the rules is a hollow exercise. We can follow the rules without having an attitude of justice behind it, and that leads to all kinds of legalism and selfishness, as we can see all around us. Christ gives us the Holy Spirit, the spirit that helps us navigate God’s Law and understand how it should be followed. The spirit of the law is Mercy, as Pope Francis reminds us. Justice isn’t about following the letter of the Law, it’s about making things right. making things right for all.
Christ comes to us in the Eucharist to give us his Spirit. Christ comes to us to fill us, makes us see the spirit of mercy that accompanies justice, calls us to reach out in love rather than push away in condemnation. Condemnation is for God alone, He doesn’t need us to help Him. He needs us to help others find mercy, to find the spirit that leads us to ultimate justice, living in a world wide bond of Charity.
What’s our motivation? The most important relationship in our lives: our relationship with Jesus, which plays out in our relationship with each other. It’s about Peace, Happiness, Joy, Purpose, Eternal Life.