In all the places where Jesus was so angry and expressed his anger in very unmistakable terms, it had to do with hypocrisy: saying one thing and doing the opposite. He is very hard, especially on the Pharisees who teach people to do one thing while they do another. The Pharisees, Jesus accuses them, make so many rules for people to keep while they themselves live off the people’s burden. His words to them are very harsh: “Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of corruption. In the same way you appear to people from the outside like good honest men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Mt. 23:27-28). Jesus advises his followers to do what the Pharisees and the scribes tell them to do since they occupy the seat of Moses; but they should be careful not to be guided by what they do, for “they tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they! Everything they do is done to attract attention…” (Mt. 23:1-4). Just how true these words could be applied to some of the leaders of our Church and some parents and teachers today! And the politicians – don’t even go there!
The church belongs to saints and sinners and that is who we are! The hypocrisy of the Pharisees is profoundly different from the sincere struggles of good and saintly people. Sincere Christians recognize their failures and try their best to live according to the Gospel Values. They admit their faults and missteps and try to make amends. They also recognize the gap between the ideal they seek to live up to and their actual situation. This tension, they know, does not easily go away. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are constantly in this process, carried by the Grace of the Master. When the apostles were arguing about who is the greatest among them, Jesus used the opportunity to teach them that the greatest must be their servant. He knew they were making an effort; they are sincere in their efforts even though they make mistakes repeatedly. Because of this sincere and honest desire to live according to the gospel values of Jesus Christ, St. Paul addresses the Christians as saints: the saints in Rome (Rom. 1:7) in Corinth (2Cor 1:1), the saints of Ephesus (Eph. 1:1), in Philippi (Phil. 1:1), etc. Christians are saints because they live by the grace of God; but they also carry the mark of sin in their lives too, which manifests in their mistakes.
But the hypocrisy that Jesus rails against in the Pharisees is different. There is no sincerity in them; they pretend to be righteous when they live as if the laws do not apply to them. They have no regard for truth, love and compassion; rather they are more interested in being respected and honored. Being so full of themselves, they refuse to be taught. Hence Jesus calls them blind guides whose blindness is really blind (Mt. 23:16; Jn. 9:41). This is why they are so guilty of hypocrisy. In our modern permissive society, this Pharisaic kind of hypocrisy is often not called by its name. It has become drowned in the bottomless pit of relativism where everyone feels entitled to live the way they want without any standards of what is right or wrong. In such a confused moral maze, hypocritical life is described simply as a point of view! As someone puts it: “it depends on how you see it”!
But as a church, we should not be afraid that we are sinners and saints. But for God’s grace, we each could be as hypocritical as the Pharisees. We should not be discouraged by our failures, but hold onto the faith we have in Jesus Christ. This is why we are his disciples. May His grace be with you now and always. Amen