The word just has a sting to it.
As we read throughout the Gospels, Jesus often uses the word “hypocrite” when talking to the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a Jewish sect known for their strict observance of the laws of ritual piety and purity, and their desire to be separated from what they considered to be Gentile contamination. They were closely allied with the scribes, who studied and interpreted the Law. As we see many places, too, both the scribes and the Pharisees liked to try to trap Jesus by asking specific doctrinal questions designed to trip him up [Catholic Bible Dictionary]. But since they were more concerned with the external than the internal when it came to following the Law of God, it is this group that Jesus so often labels as being hypocrites—a word that means a “stage actor,” one who basically pretends to be something he or she is not. Whether they meant it or not, the Pharisees were essentially pretending to be something they were not—that is, faithful followers of the Law. They were too hung up on their own stuff, their own beliefs, their own desires, their own priorities. When Jesus came teaching other things—like conversion and purity of heart and right relationship with God—they looked to silence Him; unable to do that, they looked to get rid of Him/to have Him killed.
What about for us? You know, some people say they won’t come to church because it’s full of hypocrites. Ouch! That hurts. No one likes to be called a hypocrite. But then again, I have to ask myself, am I completely loving? Do I always see myself and others as made in the image and likeness of God? Do I always give God His full due? Do I always live as one who belongs to Christ? I am always a good witness to Christ? Am I too hung up on my own stuff, my own desires and priorities?
Welcome to the Church, brothers and sisters. As Pope Francis reminds us, this side of heaven, the Church is not a resort for the perfect but a hospital for sinners, which is why we need it. Actually, I suggest this is not something to despair of, but is really something worth celebrating and appreciating more and more, growing in that conversion of heart that God calls us to for our ultimate good. And our growing in God starts with owning up to the fact that maybe we have a long way to go—with myself being the first and primary example, which is obvious if you know me at all.
Our Scriptures today remind us that this transformation of heart comes from allowing God’s Word and God’s commandments to take root in us. God’s law/God’s Word/God’s truth must be active not just through us, but first and foremost within us. The scribes and Pharisees were going through the motions, but inside their hearts had gone astray and they preferred making up their own way. It is not about following rules for their own sake but having God’s law/God’s truth/God’s Word on our hearts. It’s the basis of a relationship. As we hear in Deuteronomy, the People of Israel were to internalize this because it was a sign of God’s care for them, how much He loved them and was with them. So while the word of God has been planted in our hearts, we must be willing to surrender to God’s love and to God’s will, so that by encountering God at the depths of our hearts, we can become the sons and daughters of God that we were created to be.
Now, it can be difficult to want to encounter God at the deepest level of our hearts, and it can even be a little scary. It can be tough to look inside. Within the deepest level of our hearts we stand honestly before God as the person we truly are: a human being filled with love and goodness, but also with weaknesses and limitations and temptations—and yes, some hypocrisy. In the spiritual life, we need to be mindful of our desires, and to keep check of our intentions and motivations. Human beings are experts at rationalizing and justifying. And sometimes what touches our hearts is not God’s will but ours.
Yet our God who created us knows us completely—much more than we will ever know ourselves—and loves us just the same; always calling us to allow our hearts to be transformed to be more like His, like that of Christ, whose loving heart was pierced on the Cross so that we might be reconciled to God and share in His life. It is in the depths of our hearts/in the depth of ourselves that we can encounter the One who is the source of all real beauty, of all real goodness, of all real truth—for anything else will ultimately fail to satisfy the longings of our hearts. Not only that, but trying to fill that place in our hearts that only God can fill with other things (even good things) will ultimately lead us to turn away from God (which is sin), and these things will ultimately defile and leave us empty.
But the good God is always with us—in Word and Sacrament—to fill us, transform us, and bring us to life. Let us live this Good News, inside and out.
©2017 St. Peters Catholic Church Huron Ohio.
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