Matthew 23:13-22
1 Thes 1:2-5.8-10/Ps 149

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!
(Matthew 23:13)

No oaths can bind lies and deceits,
As made by ‘scribes and Pharisees’;
When remedied by hypocrites,
The cure is worse than the disease;

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You lock the kingdom of heaven before men; you do not enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in” … “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If any one swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?” … “So he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and he who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it; and he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.” (Mt. 23:13,16-17,20-22)


Hypocrisy is the act of putting up a front of being morally better than what we really are. It is also about condemning another person for an act of which the critic is also guilty of. The word ‘hypocrisy’ comes from the Greek word hypokrisis, which means “play-acting” or “feigning”. It applied to all kinds of public performances (including the art of oratory). Hypokrites (stage actors) were not considered suitable for public office. (Hmm, sounds familiar.) In the 4th Century BC, the great Greek orator, Demosthenes ridiculed his rival Aeschines, who was a successful actor before going into politics, as a hypokrites whose skill at impersonation (acting) made him an untrustworthy politician. In effect, Demosthenes demonstrated his own hypocrisy.

All of us are guilty of being hypocritical in different measures at one time or another. We wear different masks to manage our image in various occasions or circumstances. How often do we realize the difference in persona that we play when we are entertaining important guests or clients and the way we treat our employees or househelp? Or our attitude towards beggars outside the church who beg for a few Pesos (after we have put a hundred Pesos in the offertory collection)?

The antidote for hypocrisy are two words that also begin with the letter h. They are honesty and humility. Jesus condemned the Pharisees because of their propensity for making oaths. A person who has to resort to oath-taking instead of a simple yes or no cannot be counted on to speak honestly under normal circumstances. Jesus does not prohibit taking formal vows and oaths. It is how we casually substitute vows and oaths for honest speech that He tells us to guard against. For it is when we break a vow or oath (wittingly or unwittingly) that we ourselves become vulnerable to the the prince of lies, who is quick to take advantage of the weakened human condition.

Hypocrisy is an offspring of pride, and the other antidote against it is humility. This is the nobility of character wherein one refuses to accept that he is better or more righteous than others. Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Mt.23:12) In today’s mass, the homily of the priest finally enlightened me about what our Lord meant when He said, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate” (Mt.7:13). It is by making ourselves ‘small’ that we can easily pass through the narrow gate. Those puffed up with hypocrisy and pride will never be able to do so.

Lord, help us to be honest and humble in all our ways, so that we may never have need for masks or be chained by oaths we have to keep. We are all sinners, and have no cause to be proud; mere stewards who must be upright in all our pledges. Amen.

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