Will the Real Hypocrite Please Stand Up!

Nov 05 2017


In our Gospel lesson for this morning, we are confronted with the Pharisees who act out of show and ego, but do not act out of true piety and faith. We are confronted by a faction of religious leaders who talk the talk, but expect everyone else to walk the walk. In the Jewish tradition, the fringes on their prayer shawls were long and their phylacteries bigger than anyone else’s, but Jesus cautions the people, “Do what they teach you, but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”

We know that there are many people who try to live their lives as Christians and make mistakes. They acknowledge their mistakes and keep on trying. They are not the hypocrites. The hypocrites are the ones who insist on telling everyone else how to lives their lives and act piously in front of others, but their actions are for show, their faith is worn on their sleeves, but there is no love or respect for anyone who thinks, speaks or lives differently from them. Somehow, they always seem to forget about the two great commandments of Jesus found in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Listen to the opinion of a young man from India who was engaged in a conversation with an American Christian.

“A young American and a young man from India were attending an International Conference. During a break in the proceedings, they found themselves talking to each other about religion. The young man from India was very hostile toward Christianity, and the young American was trying to discern the reason for the hostility. “Is it something in Jesus’ teachings that turns you off?” he asked. “No,” came the reply, “it is not anything like that. The thing I resent most about Christians is that they are not Christian.” (Sunday Sermons Treasury of Illustrations, # 469)

What would the young Indian man think if he heard our words or saw our actions?  The whole issue really boils down to this – do we try to live our lives in a Christian fashion or not? Do we say one thing and do another? Are we quick to judge others, but reluctant to see our own faults? Do we lack the capacity to understand where another is coming from? Are we hypocritical Christians whose lives match the approach of the Pharisees? Are we like the Pharisees and think that we are the only ones who have the right answers? Or are we Christians who truly try to live the two great commandments to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves?

“There is a French play in which all the “good” people are at the gates of heaven on the Day of Judgment. The gates are about to be opened and they can hardly wait to get in. (We can only imagine what this would mean to a person: to come to the end and realize that heaven is here and I’m here and I’m about to get into my reserved place.) And then a rumor starts. Even at the gates of heaven, it seems rumors start. “I understand,” someone says, “He is going to forgive those others too!” For a moment, the people are absolutely dumbfounded, speechless. Then they look at each other, and start to gasp and sputter in disbelief, all trying to talk at the same time: “After all the trouble I went through!” “If I had only known this, things sure would have been different!” Some are so worked up by the realization that God is going to have compassion on those “others” that they begin to curse God. And in that instant, they are damned. It all came down to compassion. And the “good” people didn’t have it toward those “others.” (Sunday Sermons Treasury of Illustrations # 474)

A big part of love is compassion, an ability to feel pity, sympathy, or a desire to help. If, as Christians, we look upon another human being and can feel nothing but loathing and superiority, then perhaps the young man from India was right. If we cannot understand that forgiveness is a large part of who we are as people who profess to love our neighbors, then we do not understand what it means to love others.

I will not dispute that there are con men and many others who may ask for our sympathy and our money and have nothing but selfish motives. But there are many people who are hurting, who are in need of food and clothing and shelter who genuinely deserve our empathy and our help. When we can help and refuse to do so, then we are not fulfilling our responsibility as Christians to love and help others. I have many times found it to be an enigma that those who are the least equipped to help usually step forward, and those who are the most equipped to help give as little as possible.

It’s like the story of Jesus watching people put money into the treasury. Many rich people came and put in large sums of money. Then a poor widow came and put in two copper coins – all that she had. And Jesus said, “They all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything that she had, her whole living.” (Mark 12:42-44)

Or the story of Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed “God, I thank you that I am not like other men…even like this tax collector.” And the tax collector prayed, “ God be merciful to me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:9-14) Sometime during our lifetimes, instead of trying to be better than the Joneses, maybe we will all wake up and realize that each of us is blessed in many different ways, and that when others need our help, we will give a portion of our blessings to them.

Those outside churches can often be quick to criticize those inside the churches for being hypocrites. But the simple fact is that we encounter hypocritical behavior in every faction of our lives. So the question for us as Christians becomes: Who is the real hypocrite? The one who says he or she is a Christian and then does not act it out, or the one who professes not to be a Christian and acts out Christian values on a daily basis? Will the real hypocrite please stand up! Amen.