The Subtlety of Hypocrisy

Matthew 23:27-32
1Thes 2:9-13 / Psa 139:7-12

Woe to you, scribes and pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.
(Matthew 23:27)

Don’t be deceived by what may seem
So innocent, no trace of guilt...
Remember those who lie and scheme
Are whitewashed tombs hiding their filth.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but are full of hypocrisy and wickedness within. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors began! (Mt. 23:27-32)


Our Lord showed us how much He loves the meek and gentle of heart, those who humble themselves, those who make themselves least by serving others. On the other hand, in today’s Gospel reading, we read how much He detested the teachers of the law and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and self-righteous pride. Our Lord’s condemnation of hypocrisy is understandable, considering that this character flaw is the greatest obstacle to one’s repentance, without which one can never undergo genuine conversion.

Hypocrisy is such a subtle sin that a lot of people are not aware of being hypocritical in their attitude towards others, especially towards the sinners. Being judgmental about another person in any way is a form of hypocrisy, because “the measure with which we measure will be measured out to us.” (Mt.7:1) Erroneous upbringing can also lead us to bias and prejudice, another form of hypocrisy. Without any malice, we just don’t feel like associating with certain types of people, because we feel uncomfortable in their company; they bore us to death, they lack some social graces, etc. In fact, those who say that they don’t like to behave like good Christians because they don’t want to be called hypocrites are in fact being hypocritical.

Jesus warned His disciples to “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Lk.12:1) Yeast expands the bread, but makes it empty inside; so does hypocrisy make people bloat with pride, and makes their faith empty. Our Lord warns us to take care that we are not influenced by the hypocrisy of others, because as said earlier, pride and prejudice are very subtle sins that the scheming Satan can cause to pervade in our community of believers. St. Peter and Barnabas themselves were accused of hypocrisy for avoiding meals with Gentile Christians when the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem were present (Gal.2:11-13). We must therefore always be on guard against the duplicity of our motives, such as pride, selfishness, envy, and hatred. These are the offsprings of hypocrisy, and against all these, the best antidote is a humble spirit. Cultivate humility, the sweetest fragrance that is most pleasing to our God.

Keep me from being self-righteous, Lord God; remind me that all the good that I do are through no efforts of mine, because they all come from You. Amen.

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