Beware the Hypocrisy of the “Spiritual but Not Religious”

We live in the age of the designer God, when many claim the right to imagine and craft their own version of god. Some of them refer to it as “the god within.” Others call it “the god of my understanding.” Still others speak of “the Jesus I know.” A consistent feature of these manufactured gods is that they just so happen to agree with the “believer” on almost everything. Another common characteristic is that they differ in significant ways from what the true God has given to us through biblical revelation. We used to call inventing and worshiping your own god “idolatry.” Today, the euphemism for this is being “spiritual but not religious.” In labeling themselves this way, people claim the virtue of faith; they speak of themselves in pious terms and even applaud themselves for being tolerant and open-minded, even while being dismissive (i.e., intolerant) of organized religion and the Scriptures.

Jesus spoke rather plainly of those who claim to be religious but are inwardly deceiving themselves and engaging in a game of “Let’s Pretend”:

Jesus began to speak, first to his disciples,
“Beware of the leaven—that is, the hypocrisy—of the Pharisees.
There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops.
I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one”
(Luke 12:1-5).

The Greek word that is translated as “hypocrisy” is ὑπόκρισις (hypocrisis). Its nominative form is ὑποκριτής (hypocrites), which most literally means “actor.”

Obviously, an actor is someone who plays a role. An actor who portrays Julius Caesar is not in fact Julius Caesar. In a certain sense, he is “pretending” to be Julius Caesar.

It is certainly fine for an actor to pretend for a time, to be someone he is not, but in the spiritual sense, it is not good to act or pretend. When Jesus warns of hypocrisy, He is warning against pretending to be someone that we are not; or pretending to live in a world, in a time, or under a set of circumstances that is not in fact real.

When the Lord warns us not to engage in hypocrisy, He is cautioning us against pretending, engaging in fantasy, or living in a make-believe world. This serves as the opening framework of all that is to follow.

And what does follow? Fundamentally, the Lord says that the pretend world denies the reality of judgment. He goes on to warn that there is nothing that is concealed that will not one day be revealed, that there is nothing that is secret that will not be made known, that what we have said in the darkness will be heard in the light.

He then further cautions us not to be afraid of those who only have the ability to kill the body, but rather of the one who after killing, has the power to cast into Gehenna.

Most people today live in a fantasy world in that they deny or discount the reality that there will be a day of judgment, a day of reckoning. They simply gloss over the notion that they will have to render an account for every idle word (Mt 12:36), that they will have to stand before Him who judges the intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12), and that nothing will lay hidden from Him (Heb 4:13). In effect, they pretend. Pretending is acting; it is a form of hypocrisy.

Creating a designer god, a spiritual but not religious god is likewise a form of hypocrisy. A pretend god cannot save us; a designer god is of no use when going to meet the real God. If one has not allowed the true God to purify and ready him, he will be incapable of enduring the bright light of His glory and the searing insight of His truth. In fact, such a person will likely reject Him as hateful and harsh. To those who hate the truth, the truth seems hateful; to those who prefer the darkness, the light seems obnoxious.

This is why only the true God can ready us for beholding Him. Only He can accustom us to the brightness of His truth and the heat of His glory and love.

A second quality of the “spiritual but not religious,” those who claim the right to design their own god, is a subtle self-righteousness. They feel they are somehow above all this “organized religion stuff.” They don’t need doctrines or Bibles or Churches to tell them what to do; they have a direct connection of their own to the god of their (superior?) understanding. It is a kind of rehashing of tired old Gnosticism.

When Jesus warned of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, He was referring to their sense of self-righteousness. They thought that they had nothing to worry about because they were “good people”—unlike others around them. They said their prayers, fasted on Wednesdays, and paid their tithes. On the Day of Judgment, they figured that they would just walk right on into Heaven.

Too many people today have this attitude of self-righteousness. They may invoke God’s grace and mercy, but they are not really willing to consider the fact that they may, by their own sinfulness, disqualify themselves. Emphasizing certain aspects of God while discounting others, they rework Him into their own god. This is acting; it is hypocrisy and self-righteousness.

Too many people brush aside the idea that they will one day have to render an account to the true Lord. “Oh yeah, I know there’s a day of judgment, but God is love so everything will be just fine. The god I know would never permit anyone to go to Hell.” Never mind that this is in direct contradiction to the whole of Scripture! Most today live in outright heresy on this topic. (Sadly, there are those who hold the opposite, extreme attitude: one of despair.)

The Lord says that we should beware of hypocrisy, careful that we’re not living in a pretend world. None but the pure in heart can walk into Heaven. We should not be so quick to presume that we have the necessary purity of heart. The real and true God is all holy, and Heaven is a place of the souls of just men made perfect (Heb 12:23). Jesus says, you must be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mat 5:48). This is reality, but hypocrites like to pretend, to play act.

A contrived “god-within” of your “own understanding” cannot save you. Stop pretending; stop reciting lines like some actor (hypocrite). Get off the stage and down on your knees; call on the true God and savior, Jesus, the One described in Scripture, not the “Jesus” of your preferences. Yes, call on the true Lord, God, and Savior, who alone can save you.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Beware the Hypocrisy of the “Spiritual but Not Religious”

On Hypocrisy and its Cure

In the Gospel for Wednesday of the 11th Week of the Year, Jesus gives an extended teaching on hypocrisy (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18).

Today we tend reduce the idea of hypocrisy to duplicity. The modern notion is that a hypocrite is someone who says one thing but does another, one who is two-faced or phony. While Jesus’ teaching does not exclude this definition, it is far richer.

The biblical word Jesus used to refer to hypocrites is ὑποκριταί (hypokritai), which literally means “stage actors.” On one level it is easy to see how this word has come to mean people who are phony, for they claim to be what they are not; they are just playing a role. When no one is looking (i.e., the audience is gone), the hypocrite reverts to his true self, someone quite different.

In this teaching, Jesus develops the understanding far more richly and shows how sad and poignant hypocrisy is, what its origin is, and how it can be overcome.

Hypocrisy defined – In effect, Jesus describes hypocrisy as the sad state of a person who, because he does not know God the Father, reduces himself to being an actor on a stage. There are many people who live their lives in a desperate search for human approval and applause. They discern their dignity and worth, not from God, who is a stranger to them, but from what other human beings think of them. They are willing to adapt themselves, often in dramatic ways, to win human approval; they are willing to play many roles and wear many masks to please the audience. They are like actors on a stage, who seek applause, or perhaps laughter, and approval. Notice the way Jesus describes the heart of hypocrisy:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them.”

He goes on to say that they blow trumpets so that others will see them giving alms; they pray ostentatiously so that others may see that they are praying; they neglect their appearance so that others may see that they are fasting.

The heart of hypocrisy – The goal of such people is to be noticed. They are “on stage” and seek to ingratiate themselves to the audience and win applause. They engage in particular actions in order that people may see them. This is ultimately sad sight: a lonely actor on a stage, performing whatever role is required in order to win approval from the current audience, his deepest self repressed and replaced by the demands of others. This is the true description of a hypocrite.

Some take this desperate need for approval to self-destructive extremes. Many young people, often due to peer pressure, will engage in dangerous and unhealthy practices in order to gain approval. Some will even drop out of school, join gangs, and/or commit crimes. Others will drink heavily or abuse drugs. Still others will tattoo or pierce their bodies, engage in sexual activity before marriage, or do other risky things. The need for approval is often the deep drive that underlies this desperate behavior. Like actors on a stage seeking applause, they rush to fill these roles to win the approval they seek.

Adults, too, will often compromise their core principles in order to fit in, be liked, win promotions, or earn access. Christians will hide their faith, playing the role of the secular modern, in order to win approval. Some will act deceitfully so as to please their boss; others will gossip or engage in other sinful behaviors to ingratiate themselves to a group.

It is clear that the modern notion of hypocrisy as duplicity, while incomplete, is not entirely wrong. Why does the hypocrite act inconsistently, often in a duplicitous manner? Because the audience changes, and therefore he must change with it. To one group he will say yes and to another he will say no. Because the goal of the hypocrite (actor) is to be seen and to win approval, his answer must change if the group changes. He will morph, conceal his true thoughts, or outright lie in order to gain approval. The hypocrite no longer has a solid core; his identity is outside of himself, changing to whatever the audience requires in order to grant him approval.

Why does this happen to a person? Here, too, Jesus is rather clear: it happens because the person does not know God the Father. This is the tragedy of many people’s lives. They may know about God, but they do not personally know God, nor do they comprehend the depth of His love for them. To them, God is at best a benevolent stranger who runs the universe. He is off in some remote heaven somewhere and the interaction they have with Him is vague and abstract. God exists, but He is on the periphery of their lives. In effect, God is a stranger to them.

Notice the remedy that Jesus gives for each example of hypocrisy he cites:

Your heavenly Father, who sees in secret, will repay you for giving alms … Your heavenly Father, who sees in secret, will repay you for praying … Your heavenly Father, who sees what is hidden, will repay you for your fasting.

It is enough that your heavenly Father sees what you do. Now of course as long as God remains a distant and aloof figure, this will not be enough, but to the degree that we experience God’s love for us, His providence, and His good will toward us, we will be less concerned with what others think. We will begin to come down off the stage. We will focus more on, and be more satisfied with, the approval of God.

Notice, too, the intimacy that Jesus sets forth. Jesus refers to God as “your heavenly Father.” He is not merely the deity. He is not merely “God in Heaven.” He is not even just “the Father.” He is “your heavenly Father.” He is the one who created you, sustains you, provides for you, and loves you.

Journeying away from hypocrisy – To the degree that this is a real experience for us rather than just words on a page or knowledge based on what others have said, start to climb off the stage. We are less the actor (the hypocrite) and more the authentic self that God has created us to be. We begin to lose our obsession with what others think of us. We are less desperate for their approval. It is not that we become sociopaths, caring not one whit what others think. We still groom ourselves, etc., but we are not obsessed with the good opinion of others. It is enough that we know Our Heavenly Father and of His love for us.

Hence hypocrisy, at least as Jesus teaches it here, is a richer concept than we often think of today. To this sad and poignant problem, Jesus addresses a very powerful and personal solution: know “your heavenly Father” and experience His love for you. Thank you, Lord Jesus!

God and God Alone – A Homily for the 29th Sunday of the Year

credit: Portable Antiquities Scheme, Wikimedia

The Gospel for Sunday contains lots of interesting juxtapositions: hatred for Jesus but grudging respect, real questions vs. rhetorical ones, politics and faith, duties to Caesar and duties to God. The word “juxtaposition” comes from the Latin juxta, meaning “near” and positio, meaning “place” or “position”. Juxtaposition is the placing of two things near to each other, usually in order to see how they are similar yet different. Most often the differences are emphasized more than the similarities.

Let’s look at the juxtapositions in today’s Gospel, concentrating most of our attention on our duties to God as compared to our duties to “Caesar.”

I. The Plotting of the Peculiar Partners The Gospel begins by describing an extremely unlikely set of “bedfellows.” The text says, The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians. A very unlikely set of allies indeed. The Pharisees hated the Herodians. It was a combination of political and racial hatred, just about as poisonous as you could get in the ancient world, yet they both agreed that this Jesus fellow had to go.

Here is an important teaching: if you’re going to be a true Christian, the world will hate you. Too many Christians think that some segment of the world will agree to live in peace with us and so we strive to forge allegiances with it. In the modern American milieu, some think that the Republicans or the Democrats are natural allies, but we really don’t fit well into either party nor any worldly “club.”

Catholicism is an “equal-opportunity offender” in its unabridged form. Issue by issue We may appeal to one political party or another on a particular issue, but on the whole we’re a nuisance: we’re pro-life, traditional family values, immigrants’ rights, and affordable housing. We both please and annoy, which is another way of saying we don’t fit neatly into the world’s categories; everyone has some reason to hate us.

Welcome to Jesus’ world, in which groups who seemed to agree on nothing were aligned when it came to hating Jesus.

II. The Praise that is actually a Perilous Provocation – In their opening remarks to Jesus, His enemies give Him grudging respect. They do so not to praise Him, however, but rather to provoke Him. They say, Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?

The praise is largely a pretext that is used to provoke. In effect, they think they can they can force a definition on Jesus: “You’re ‘the Man.’ You’re the prophet. You’re the only one around here who tells the truth no matter what.” Now none of these things are false and they bespeak a grudging respect for Jesus.

However, they are only using this to draw Jesus into a worldly debate that is well “below his pay grade.” They want Jesus to take sides in a silly human debate over politics and worldly power. They want him to get arrested and killed over something that is not worth dying for.

Prophets die for the truth revealed by God not for who the “big cheese” should be in human affairs. They want Jesus to opine as if He were some sort of talking head on TV rather than the prophet and Lord that He is. A question of this sort is not worthy of Jesus’ attention. Ask this of the local senator or mayor but leave God out of human political distinctions and camps; do not expect Him to take sides. He is beyond our distinctions and will not be confined by party lines, national boundaries, or political philosophies.

We may well contend that certain systems of government better reflect the Kingdom than others, but in the end, God cannot be reduced to being a Republican, a Democrat, or for that matter an American. He is God and He transcends our endless debates and camps. He is not a talking head; He is God.

Generally speaking, rhetorical questions are statements or arguments posed in the form of a question. If I say to you, “Are you crazy?” I’m not really looking for an answer; I’m making statement that I think you are crazy. This is what takes place in today’s Gospel. The questioners already have their own opinions and aren’t change their minds no matter how Jesus answers. They don’t really want an answer; they want something to use against Him.

If Jesus says, “Yes, pay the taxes,” it will make Him unpopular with the crowds. If He says “No, don’t pay the taxes,” He will be arrested and likely executed.

In the end, Jesus calls them what they are: hypocrites, a Greek word meaning “actor.” And that is what they are. This whole thing is an act. This is not about discovering the truth; it is about setting a trap.

But Jesus will have none of it. He will not be reduced to human distinctions and categories. The truth He proclaims transcends the passing political order and any human power struggles. He will not be drawn into choosing sides. Rather, He will apply the rule of truth evenly to all.

Jesus is reality in the face of rhetoric, perfection in the face of politics, divinity in the face of division.

III. The Protesting of their Pretext and Pretense Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?” Not everyone who engages us is truly looking for an answer or for the truth. We cannot always know things, but Jesus surely could. Often, when engaged in a discussion about the truth of the Gospel, one discovers that authentic dialogue is not actually taking place. In that case it is permissible to merely proclaim the truth firmly, clearly, and with due charity, and then end the conversation. Jesus called them on their pretense and authoritatively announced the principle with the goal of ending the conversation and sending them away to think.

IV. The Pointed Proclamation of the Principle – Jesus says, simply, and in a way that transcends worldly “all-or-nothing” scenarios, Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.

Such an answer elicits in us a desire for elaboration, but in our demands for more detail, we too often seek to conceal the fact that we really know the answer. We also betray the need of the flesh to specify everything so as to control and limit its impact.

If we really need a list, we might include some of the following things we ought to do in order “repay” to Caesar:

1. Obey all just laws.
2. Pay legally assessed taxes.
3. Pray for our country and its leaders.
4. Participate in the common defense based on our abilities and state in life.
5. Take an active and informed role in the political process.
6. Engage in movements for necessary reform.
7. Contribute to the common good through work (domestic or market-based) and through the sharing of our abilities and talents with others.
8. Maintain strong family ties and raise disciplined children who are well-prepared to contribute to the common good and to the good order of society.
9. Encourage patriotic love of our country.
10. Strive for unity and love rooted in Truth.

Here are some things we might include in a list of what we owe to God:

1. Adoration, love, and gratitude
2. Obedience to His Word and His Law
3. Worship
4. Repentance
5. Support of His Church by attendance at sacred worship, financial support, and sharing of our gifts and talents
6. Proclamation of his Word both verbally and by witness
7. Devoted reception of the sacraments
8. Raising our children in His truth and in reverence of Him
9. Evangelization (making disciples)
10. Preparing for death and judgment through a holy and reverent sojourn in this world.

A glance at these lists reveals that there is some overlap. One would expect this with God because He defies our human categories and distinctions. In the overlap, we see a setting forth of the great commandment of Love: that we should love the Lord our God with all our soul, strength, and mind, and our neighbor as our self (e.g., Matt 22:37). For while God is not Caesar and Caesar is not God, love unites both categories.

To love our country is to love our neighbor. To work for, support, and be involved in the common good is to love our neighbor. And to love our neighbor, whom we see, is to begin to love God, whom we do not see. Further, to seek to reform our land, secure justice, and ensure unity rooted in truth is to help usher in the Kingdom of God. To be rooted in God’s law, walk in His truth, and raise our children as strong and disciplined disciples of the Lord is to bless this country. To obey God and to walk in sobriety, love, and self-discipline is not only to render to God but also to be a good citizen.

However, it must be clear that God is and must be our supreme love. Jesus is not setting forth an equivalence here. This world is often at odds with God and thus we who would be His disciples must accept the fact that we will often be seen by this world as though we are aliens from another planet. Neither Jesus nor we should expect to fit precisely into any worldly category or club. We will be an equal-opportunity irritant to any large group. If we are going to be faithful Catholics then we must expect to be outsiders, outliers, and outcasts.

Rendering to God comes first. Too many people today, however, are more passionate about their politics than their faith. They tuck their faith underneath their politics and worldview. They are more inclined to agree with their party than with the Church or even the Scriptures. If you point that out, though, they’re likely to accuse you of violating the separation of Church and State (a phrase that does not appear in the Constitution, by the way) or tell you that unless something is infallibly defined (as they determine it) they are free to ignore the teaching of the bishops, the Pope, and/or the Catechism.

Here is the question we must ask ourselves: Do we really put God first? Is His Word really the foundation of our thoughts and views or are we just playing games? Loving this world and working for the common good are not at odds with our love for God, but submitting to worldly categories and human divisions and permitting them to drive our views is most often opposed to God, who will not simply be conformed to human political movements.

God has set forth the Catholic Church to speak for Him but He has not anointed any political movement or worldly organization to do so. No Catholic should surrender to artificial and passing distinctions or to organizations. No Catholic should permit worldly allegiances to trump what Scripture and the Church clearly proclaim. Sadly, today many seem far more willing to render to some version of “Caesar” than to render obedience and allegiance to God and to the Church, which speaks for Him. The Church is an object of faith; a political party is not. Render to God what is God’s.

This song in the video below says that God and God alone is fit to take the universe’s throne.

What Does Jesus Mean by Hypocrisy? It’s Deeper than You Think

In the Gospel from Ash Wednesday’s  Mass, Jesus gives an extended teaching on the problem of hypocrisy. You can read it here: Matthew 6 – On Hypocrisy. In the modern age we have tended to reduce the notion of hypocrisy to duplicity. The modern notion is that a hypocrite is someone who says one thing but does another, a person who is two-faced, who is inconsistent or phony. Jesus’ teaching on Hypocrisy does not exclude this notion but is far richer.

The Biblical understanding enunciated by Jesus is rooted in the original meaning of the Greek word ὑποκριταί (hypokritai) which means “stage actors.” At one level it is easy to see how this word has come to mean some one who is phony. For what they claim to be, they really are not, they are just acting a role. But when no one is looking (i.e. the audience is gone) they revert to their true self, which is some one quite different. But Jesus in his teaching here develops the understanding far more richly that shows how sad and poignant hypocrisy is, what its origin is and how it can be overcome.

Hypocrisy defined – In effect Jesus describes hypocrisy as the sad state of a person who reduces himself to being an actor on a stage, because he does not know God the Father. There are many people who live their life in a desperate search for human approval and applause. They discern their dignity and worth, not from God, (who is in effect a stranger to them), but from what other human beings think of them. They are willing to adapt themselves often in dramatic ways to win approval. They are willing to play many roles and wear many masks to give the audience what they want. They are like actors on a stage, who seek applause or perhaps laughter and approval. Notice the way Jesus describes the heart of hypocrisy:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them;….The Lord goes on to say that they blow a trumpet so that others will see them giving alms, they pray ostentatiously so that others may see they are praying, and they alter their appearance so that others may see they are fasting.

The heart of hypocrisy – Thus, the goal of such a person is to be seen. They are on stage and seek to ingratiate themselves to the audience and win applause. Hence they engage in some action “in order that people may see them.” It is clear that this is ultimately very sad. A lonely actor on a stage performing whatever role is required in order to win approval from the current audience. Their inner core or deepest self is repressed and replaced by the demands of others. This is the true heart of and description of hypocrisy.

Many take this desperate need for approval from others to very self destructive extremes. Many young people, due to peer pressure, will engage in dangerous and unhealthy practices to win approval. Some will drop out of school, join gangs and commit crimes. Others will drink heavily or use drugs. Still others will tattoo and pierce their bodies, engage in sexual activity before marriage, and do many risky things. The need for approval is often the deep drive that underlies this desperate behavior. But like actors on a stage seeking applause they rush to fill these rolls and wait for the applause and acceptance.

Adults too will often compromise core principles in order to fit in and be liked, gain promotions or earn access. Christians will hide their faith, playing the role of a secular modern in order to win approval. Some will act deceitfully to please a boss, others will gossip or engage in any number of sinful behaviors to ingratiate themselves to a group.

It is also clear that our modern notion of hypocrisy as duplicity, while incomplete, is not wrong either. Why does the hypocrite act inconsistently, often in a duplicitous manner? Because the audience changes, and he must change with it. So to one group he will say “yes” and to another group he will say “no.” Since the goal of the hypocrite (actor) is to be seen and win approval, the answer must change if the group does. Hence he will morph, hide his true thoughts or outright lie to gain the approval. He no longer has a core, his identity is outside of himself in what ever the audience requires in order to grant him approval.

Why does this happen to a person? Here too Jesus is rather clear. This happens to a person who does not know God the Father. The great tragedy of many lives is that they do not know the Father. They may know ABOUT God, but they do not personally know God or his love for them. God is at best a benevolent stranger who runs the universe but he is in some remote heaven and the interaction that many have with him is vague and abstract. God exists but he is on the periphery of life. In effect he is a stranger.

Notice the remedy that Jesus assigns for each example of hypocrisy he cites:

Your heavenly Father, who sees in secret will repay you for giving alms….Your heavenly Father who sees in secret will repay you for praying…..Your heavenly Father who sees what is hidden will repay you for your fasting.

In other words the goal in life and the remedy for hypocrisy is that it is enough that Your heavenly Father sees what you do. Now of course, as long as God the Father remains a distant and aloof figure what he sees never WILL be enough for us. But to the degree that we begin to experience God the Father’s love for us, his providence and his good will toward us, then we become less concerned with what others think. We begin to come down off the stage and be less concerned for the approval of men and more focused on and then satisfied with the approval of God.

Notice too the intimacy that Jesus sets forth. He says of God, He is “Your heavenly Father.” He is not merely the “Deity.” He is not merely God in heaven. He is not even merely the Father. He is “YOUR heavenly Father.” He is the one who created you, sustains you, provides for and loves you.

Journeying away from Hypocrisy – To the degree that this becomes real for us, and is more than words on the page of a book, or inferential knowledge base only on what others have said, to the degree that this is a real experience for us, we start to climb off the stage. We are less the actor (the hypocrite) and more the authentic self God has created us to be. We begin to loose our obsession with what others think of us. We are less desperate for their approval. It is not that we become sociopaths caring not one whit what others think. We still groom ourselves etc., but we are not obsessed with the good opinion of others. It is enough that we know our heavenly Father and his love for us.

Hence, hypocrisy, at least as Jesus teaches it here. is a richer concept than we often think of today. To this sad and poignant problem, Jesus addresses a very powerful and personal solution of knowing “your heavenly Father” and experiencing his love for you. Thank you Lord Jesus!

Towards a Richer, More Biblical Understanding of Hypocrisy and How to Overcome It

In the modern age we have tended to reduce the notion of hypocrisy to duplicity. The modern notion is that a hypocrite is someone who says one thing but does another, a person who is two-faced, who is inconsistent or phony. Jesus’ teaching on Hypocrisy does not exclude this notion but is far richer.

The Biblical understanding enunciated by Jesus is rooted in the original meaning of the Greek word hypokritḗs which means “stage actor.” At one level it is easy to see how this word has come to mean some one who is phony. In other words what they claim to be they really are not, they are just acting a role. But when no one is looking (i.e. the audience is gone) they revert to their true self, which is some one quite different. But Jesus in his teaching here develops the understanding far more richly that shows how sad and poignant hypocrisy is, what its origin is and how it can be overcome.

Hypocrisy defined – In Matthew 6, Jesus takes up the problem of hypocrisy. In effect he describes hypocrisy as the sad state of a person who reduces himself to being an actor on a stage, because he does not know God the Father. There are many people who live their life in a desperate search for human approval and applause. They discern their dignity and worth, not from God (who is, in effect, a stranger to them), but from what other human beings think of them. They are willing to adapt themselves often in dramatic ways to win approval. They are willing to play many roles and wear many masks to give the audience what they want. They are like actors on a stage who seek applause or perhaps laughter and approval. Notice the way Jesus describes the heart of hypocrisy:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them;….The Lord goes on to say that they blow a trumpet so that others will see them giving alms, they pray ostentatiously so that others may see they are praying, and they alter their appearance so that others may see they are fasting.

The heart of hypocrisy – Thus, the goal of such a person is to be seen. They are on stage and seek to ingratiate themselves to the audience, and win applause. Hence they engage in some action “in order that people may see them.” It is clear that this is ultimately very sad. A lonely actor on a stage performing whatever role is required in order to win approval from the current audience. Their inner core or deepest self is repressed and replaced by the demands of others. This is the true heart of and description of hypocrisy.

Many take this desperate need for approval from others to very self destructive extremes. Many young people, due to peer pressure, will engage in dangerous and unhealthy practices to win approval. Some will drop out of school, join gangs and commit crimes. Others will drink heavily or use drugs. Still others will tattoo and pierce their bodies, engage in sexual activity before marriage, and do many risky things. The need for approval is often the deep drive that underlies this desperate behavior. But like actors on a stage seeking applause, they rush to fill these rolls, and hope for the applause and acceptance. Adults too will often compromise core principles in order to fit in and be liked, gain promotions, or earn access. Christians will hide their faith, playing the role of a secular modern in order to win approval. Some will act deceitfully to please a boss, others will gossip or engage in any number of sinful behaviors to ingratiate themselves to a group.

It is also clear that our modern notion of hypocrisy as duplicity, while incomplete, is not wrong either. Why does the hypocrite act inconsistently, often in a duplicitous manner? Because the audience changes and he must change with it. So to one group he will say, “Yes” and to another group he will say, “No.” Since the goal of the hypocrite (actor) is to be seen and win approval, the answer must change if the group does. Hence he will morph, hide his true thoughts, or outright lie to gain the approval. He no longer has a core, his identity is outside of himself in what ever the audience requires in order to grant him approval.

Why does this happen to a person? Here too Jesus is rather clear. This happens to a person who does not know God the Father. The great tragedy of many lives is that they do not know the Father. They may know ABOUT God, but they do not personally know God or his love for them. God is at best a benevolent stranger who runs the universe, but he is in some remote heaven, and the interaction that many have with him is vague and abstract. God exists but he is on the periphery of life. In effect he is a stranger.

Notice the remedy that Jesus assigns for each example of hypocrisy he cites:

Your heavenly Father, who sees in secret will repay you for giving alms….Your heavenly Father who sees in secret will repay you for praying…..Your heavenly Father who sees what is hidden will repay you for your fasting.

In other words the goal in life, and the remedy for hypocrisy, is that it be enough that Your heavenly Father sees what you do. Now of course, as long as God the Father remains a distant and aloof figure, what he sees never WILL be enough. But to the degree that we begin to experience God the Father’s love for us, his providence and his good will toward us, then we become less concerned with what others think. We begin to come down off the stage and be less concerned for the approval of men and more focused on and then satisfied with the approval of God.

Notice too the intimacy that Jesus points too. He is “Your heavenly Father.” He is not merely the “Deity.” He is not merely God up in heaven. He is not even merely the Father. He is “YOUR heavenly Father.” He is the one who created you, sustains you, provides for and loves you.

Journeying away from Hypocrisy – To the degree that this becomes real for us and is more than words on the page of a book or inferential knowledge base only on what others have said, to the degree that this is a real experience for us, we start to climb off the stage. We are less the actor (the hypocrite) and more the authentic self God has created us to be. We begin to loose our obsession with what others think of us. We are less desperate for their approval. It is not that we become sociopaths caring not one whit what others think. We still groom ourselves etc but we are not obsessed with the good opinion of others. It is enough that we know our heavenly Father and his love for us.

Hence, hypocrisy, at least as Jesus teaches it here, is a richer concept than we often think of today. To this sad and poingnant problem, Jesus addresses a very powerful and personal solution of knowing “your heavenly Father” and expereincing his love for you. Thank you Lord Jesus!

Hypocrisy Is More Than We Usually Think. An analysis of Jesus’teaching on hypocrisy in Matthew 6.

In the Gospel from today’s Mass Jesus gives an extended teaching on the problem of hypocrisy. You can read it here: Matthew 6 – On Hypocrisy. In the modern age we have tended to reduce the notion of hypocrisy to duplicity. The modern notion is that a  hypocrite is someone who says one thing but does another, a person who is two-faced, who is inconsistent or phony. Jesus’ teaching on Hypocrisy does not exclude this notion but is far richer.

The Biblical understanding enunciated by Jesus is rooted in the original mean of the Greek word  hypokritḗs  which means “stage actor.”  At one level it is easy to see how this word has come to mean some one who is phony. In other words what they claim to be they really are not, they are just acting a role but when no one is looking (i.e. the audience is gone) they revert to their true self which is some one quite different. But Jesus in his teaching here develops the understanding far more richly that shows how sad and poignant hypocrisy is, what its origin is and how it can be overcome.

Hypocrisy defined – In effect Jesus describes hypocrisy as the sad state of a person who reduces himself to being an actor on a stage because he does not know God the Father. There are many people who live their life in a desperate search for human approval and applause. They discern their dignity and worth not from God (who is in effect a stranger to them) but from what other human beings think of them. They are willing to adapt themselves often in dramatic ways to win approval. They are willing to play many roles and wear many masks to give the audience what they want. They are like actors on a stage who seek applause or perhaps laughter and approval.  Notice the way Jesus describes the heart of hypocrisy:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them;….The Lord goes on to say that they blow a trumpet so that others will see them giving alms, they pray ostentatiously so that others may see they are praying, and they alter their appearance so that others may see they are fasting.

The heart of hypocrisy – Thus, the goal of such a person is to be seen. They are on stage and seek to ingratiate themselves to the audience and win applause.  Hence they engage in some action “in order that people may see them.” It is clear that this is ultimately very sad. A lonely actor on a stage performing whatever role is required in order to win approval from the current audience. Their inner core or deepest self is repressed and replaced by the demands of others.  This is the true heart of and description of hypocrisy.

Many take this desperate need for approval from others to very self destructive extremes. Many young people,  due to peer pressure,  will engage in dangerous and unhealthy practices to win approval. Some will drop out of school, join gangs and commit crimes. Others will drink heavily or use drugs. Still others will tattoo and pierce their bodies, engage in sexual activity before marriage, and do many risky things. The need for approval is often the deep drive that underlies this desperate behavior. But like actors on a stage seeking applause they rush to fill these rolls and wait for the applause and acceptance. Adults too will often compromise core principles in order to fit in and be liked, gain promotions or earn access. Christians will hide their faith, playing the role of a secular modern in order to win approval. Some will act deceitfully to please a boss, others will gossip or engage in any number of sinful behaviors to ingratiate themselves to a group.

It is also clear that our modern notion of hypocrisy as duplicity, while incomplete,  is not wrong either. Why does the hypocrite act inconsistently, often in a duplicitous manner? Because the audience changes and he must change with it. So to one group he will say “yes” and to another group he will say “no.” Since the goal of the hypocrite (actor) is to be seen and win approval, the answer must change if the group does. Hence he will morph, hide his true thoughts or outright lie to gain the approval. He no longer has a core, his identity is outside of himself in what ever the audience requires in order to grant him approval.

Why does this happen to a person? Here too Jesus is rather clear. This happens to a person who does not know God the Father. The great tragedy of many lives is that they do not know the Father. They may know ABOUT God, but they do not personally know God or his love for them. God is at best a benevolent stranger who runs the universe but he is in some remote heaven and the interaction that many have with him is vague and abstract. God exists but he is on the periphery of life. In effect he is a stranger.

Notice the remedy that Jesus assigns for each example of hypocrisy he cites:

Your heavenly Father, who sees in secret will repay you for giving alms….Your heavenly Father who sees in secret will repay you for praying…..Your heavenly Father who sees what is hidden will repay you for your fasting.

In other words  the goal in life and the remedy for hypocrisy is that  it is enough that Your heavenly Father sees what you do. Now of course, as long as God the Father remains a distant and aloof figure what he sees never WILL be enough. But to the degree that we begin to experience God the Father’s love for us, his providence and his good will toward us, then we become less concerned with what others think. We begin to come down off the stage and be less concerned for the approval of men and more focused on and then satisfied with the approval of God.

Notice too the intimacy that Jesus points too. He is “Your heavenly Father.” He is not merely the “Deity.” He is not merely God in heaven. He is not even merely the Father. He is “YOUR heavenly Father.”  He is the one who created you, sustains you, provides for and loves you.

Journeying away from Hypocrisy – To the degree that this becomes real for us and is more than words on the page of a book or inferential knowledge base only on what others have said, to the degree that this is a real experience for us, we start to climb off the stage. We are less the actor (the hypocrite) and more the authentic self God has created us to be. We begin to loose our obsession with what others think of us. We are less desperate for their approval. It is not that we become sociopaths caring not one whit what others think. We still groom ourselves etc but we are not obsessed with the good opinion of others. It is enough that  we know our heavenly Father and his love for us.

Hence, hypocrisy, at least as Jesus teaches it here.  is a richer concept than we often think of today. To this sad and poingnant problem, Jesus addresses a very powerful and personal solution of knowing “your heavenly Father” and expereincing his love for you. Thank you Lord Jesus!