Hypocrisy

Matthew 23:13-22
2 Thes 1:1-5,11-12 / Psa 96

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

Oaths are made to hide lies and deceits,
An honest man has no need to swear;
Impassioned words used by hypocrites,
They are what false witnesses declare.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by Him who is seated on it.” (Matthew 23:13-22)

Reflection

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 accuser 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, 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 various 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 we play when we are entertaining important guests or clients and the way we treat our employees or house help? 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 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 again, the antidote for it is humility. This is the nobility of character where one does not feel 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) The homily of the celebrant in one mass enlightened me about what our Lord meant when He said, “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 can never do so.

Lord, help us to be honest and humble in all our ways, 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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