2021-04-06

Hypocrites! part 2


Hypocrisy has a prominent place in Western moral discourse in no small part because Jesus invoked it so often. In Luke 6, Jesus says,
“how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”
In Matthew 6, Jesus says, when you give alms, when you pray, and when you fast, don’t do it as the hypocrites do. Don’t sound a trumpet before you so you may be praised by others. Give alms in secret, not letting your left hand know you’re your right hand is doing, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Don’t pray in the synagogues and street corners so you may be seen by others.Pray in your room with the door shut, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you fast, don’t look dismal to show others that you’re fasting; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

In Luke 12, Jesus says to his disciples,
“Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.”
Later in Luke 12, Jesus tells a crowd that they are hypocritical because they can interpret signs of rain, or of a coming heat wave, but do “not know how to interpret the present time.”

In Luke 13, Jesus eases a woman’s crippling ailment. The leader of the synagogue is indignant because Jesus cured on the Sabbath. Jesus retorts:
“You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”
But it’s in Matthew 23 that Jesus really lays into the Scribes and Pharisees, using the sternest words of condemnation Jesus speaks in the gospels. Seven times in that passage he imprecates: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” He says they lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. They make their converts “twice as much a child of hell as” themselves. They dither over whether swearing by the sanctuary, or by the gold of the sanctuary is the more binding oath. They are careful to tithe their mint, dill, and cummin, but neglect justice and mercy and faith. They strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. They clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside are full of greed and self-indulgence. They are like whitewashed tombs: beautiful on the outside, but inside full of the bones of the dead. They and their ilk have killed or flogged true prophets, sages, and scribes. These Pharisees, Jesus says, will bear the guilt of it all. They are show offs -- actors on a stage who drop the pretense when no one is watching.

If “playing a part” is hypocrisy, the solution isn’t to never be on stage. We’re going to need to sometimes put ourselves out there – sign up, join, take a seat at the table -- be on display, but not just displaying. Not just displaying, but practicing with others. Practicing how to listen better, practicing having hard conversations, practicing how to look for joy, share pain, be curious, abandon defensiveness, and find togetherness.

Practice vulnerability, and getting uncomfortable, and being present with people as ourselves, not who we think they want us to be. When we find our belonging, we find our wholeness, our integrity, and there is no thought of fitting in because we apprehend that there’s no way to not fit in.

Whoever you are, you were brought forth by the universe to be the unique gift that you are. And your limitations are indispensable. You need your limitations the way a painter needs an edge of the canvas.

The poor Pharisees get a rather harsh rap. They are accused of being show offs, lonely actors on a stage performing whatever role is required in order to win approval from the current audience. But they were under conditions of occupation. They were an oppressed people. The consequences of failure to meet with the approval of the Romans – failure to fit in with what the regime required -- could be dire. No wonder they acted a part. Even under much more tolerant circumstances, its easy for a person’s need for approval from others to grow desperate.

Jesus tells his followers: 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. We might put it this way: the universe, in ways both subtle and clear, welcomes you into your wholeness. The world needs you as you are, integrated.

In Jesus’ time, the primary spiritual practices were alms giving, praying, and fasting. The function of spiritual practice is to deepen our awareness that we are, indeed, never alone – to more thoroughly grasp the connection of love that binds us to one another and our world. But the practice won’t work if we are merely performing, if we are showing off. So Jesus suggests do it in secret. Just remove the temptation of any motive other than to pause and be conscious of the love that surrounds us, flowing into us and filling us up. Pause to reconnect with your inalienable belonging, inherent wholeness, and unbreakable integrity.

In the creative enterprise, the art, that is living, showing up for others, is of the essence. The musician needs recitals, the painter needs exhibits, the writer needs readers. We need to step onto our respective stages – bringing our authenticity, honed in solitary practice. If the actions taken when on stage flow from authenticity, then they are not under- (hypo) performed. It's "showing," rather than "showing off."

Going back to the root meaning of “-crisy” – before it meant "to play a part," and before it meant "to answer a fellow actor," it simply meant “to answer.” We are here to answer: to answer our call -- to respond to what we are called to be by offering up the wholeness of our being, rather than hypo-answering, under-answering with mere pretense.

Knowing your authenticity, knowing your true belonging, knowing your wholeness and your integrity -- helped along by insights from others but not dependent upon their approval -- is always a work in progress. It is a knowing glimpsed but never quite grasped. Thus our reach exceeds our grasp. Thus are we liberated from pretense.

May it be so. Amen.

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