John Stott claims, “Hypocrisy is hideous. What cancer is to the body, hypocrisy is to the church.”
By all indications, Jesus would agree with John Stott. In Matthew 6:2, 6:5, and 6:16 he cautioned people not to do as the hypocrites do.
The word Jesus chose to use here to describe what we should not do, hypocrite, was actually an ancient Greek word, used to describe the actors in Greek drama. Literally, the word means “an interpreter from underneath.” In ancient Greek drama, the actors wore masks to make clear what part they played. The hero would wear the mask of the hero; the heroine would wear the mask of the heroine; and the villain would wear the mask of the villain. A hypocrite was one who spoke, or interpreted, the play from underneath the mask he was wearing. The actor was not in reality the character he played; he simply wore a mask to pretend to be that person in the drama.
That’s the kind of behavior Jesus cautions us to avoid: Do not put on a mask, pretending to be what I am not!
The problem is that we all struggle to some extent with hypocrisy. We all put on masks at times, pretending to be what we are not.
In his book The Gift of Being Yourself, David Benner describes how this gets started in us: “The roots of our pretend self lie in our childhood discovery that we can secure love by presenting ourselves in the most flattering light. A little girl hides her hatred of her brother because she knows that she should love him. This lack of integrity is then reinforced by her parents, who commend her loving behavior. A young boy denies his resentment after he fails to get something he desires. In so doing he takes a step toward a loss of awareness of what he is really feeling. In short, we learn to fake it, appearing as we think important others want us to be and ignoring the evidence to the contrary.”
Jesus’ call to us to avoid hypocrisy is a call to us to be honest about the struggles and faults of our lives.
Some years ago, a friend of mine posted a note on the dorm of his college dorm room that speaks well to this challenge: “To be a Christian is to be knowingly and publicly a hypocrite. We aspire to be like Jesus, to be perfect…while, at the core of our beliefs is the fact that ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ We ponder WWJD (what would Jesus do) then do something very different. That is why Christians are, or should be, so big on forgiveness and redemption. We cannot be like Jesus, but all God asks of us is to try and to ask for forgiveness when we fail. It is because of this that I am sad when I hear of or see a proud (holier-than-thou) Christian, and I am deeply saddened when I am that Christian.”
C.S. Lewis writes, “No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of His presence.”
So let’s be honest about our falls and about the dirt in us. Let’s be real about our struggles and faults and failures. And let’s forgive one another and bear with one another for we are all folks who struggle and fall. ■
—Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa.