By Dane Neufeld
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 11:53-12:12
53 When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile towards him and to cross-examine him about many things, 54lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.
1 Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered in thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. 2Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 3Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. 5But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 6Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. 7But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
8 “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; 9but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. 10And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 11When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; 12for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”
One standard definition of hypocrisy is as follows: “the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.” Of course, what we call hypocrisy depends a lot on what we call virtue. It is possible to be zealous in avoiding hypocrisy — tick all the right ethical boxes, cleanse our associations of contamination — in order to justify our resentment or sense of superiority over others. It seems the Pharisees had mastered a rather complex ethical system to their own satisfaction, but in the process they had poisoned the whole system with their pride.
Jesus tells his listeners to “beware” of this. Though hypocrisy can be an effective near-term strategy for acquiring power and prestige, it will ultimately fail. “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” If these words make us a little bit nervous, it probably means that we are a little bit hypocritical. It probably means that at some point we have employed strategies to make ourselves look better than we may actually be, or we have made use of distractions, mirages, or platforms to project a certain kind of image.
We should beware of such things, because hypocrisy can work its way through the whole batch and corrupt something that was meant to nourish us. Hypocrisy can turn virtue or even compassion into ladders we use to climb over each other. True integrity is not mere consistency, or mastery over a value system, but humility that is grounded in love. Don’t worry about what the Pharisees are saying, Jesus says, “even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” This is the character of the love of God in which Jesus laid down his life for others. We are called to do the same.
The Rev. Dane Neufeld currently serves as the incumbent of St. James, Calgary, after serving 7 years in Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta.
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