The dictionary defines hypocrisy as “a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not : behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel; especially : the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.” In other words, a hypocrite is a pretender. A hypocrite acts one way and believes another.
In today’s gospel we hear Jesus severely condemn the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. While they dedicated their lives to the spread of the kingdom of God, they neglected fundamental tenets of the Mosaic Law. Jesus calls them “blind guides” and “fools” for they ignored the morality they preached while laying heavy burdens on others. Fair judgment, compassion and trustworthiness were subjugated to adherence to detailed regulations. In their attempts to make religion relevant they sacrificed authenticity. Although not the only group to abuse their power, they were, in fact, a significant voice for Judaism.
Jesus does not mince his words here. “Woe to you…” is a serious indictment. It indicates the power of the role of the Pharisee to influence others. The lack of honesty in their portrayal of the Law was not to be ignored by Jesus. He spoke firmly against deception. With authority comes greater responsibility to represent the truth.
If we call ourselves Christian we learn from Jesus the importance of being authentic, of choosing honesty and not deception, and most especially to avoid self-deception. It requires constant vigilance to seek the truth and make that evident by how we live. When I claim to love God and my neighbor and remain prejudiced and selfish, when I say I am pro-life and ignore the myriad of ways people are killed, when I cannot detach myself from material goods or power, I am pretending to be a Christian. The practice of Christianity is not made up of rituals and observances. These are meant to nurture us on our journey. An authentic follower of Jesus is one who “walks the talk”.
While we work diligently and pray fervently to walk this path let us also pray for leaders of church and state to remember their responsibility to use: fair judgment, compassion and trustworthiness in their governance. Amen.