YEAST OF HYPOCRISY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EPHESIANS 1:11-14; LUKE 12:1-7 ]
“The people had gathered in their thousands so that they were treading on one another. And Jesus began to speak, first of all to his disciples. ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees – that is, their hypocrisy.’” Why did Jesus call the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the yeast? Sadly, it was their hypocrisy that was the cause of their downfall. As the Lord reprimanded them, “You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.'” (Mt 15:7-9)
Why is hypocrisy described as a yeast? We know that yeast will grow and spread. So, too, hypocrisy, which springs from the sin of Pride, will lead to many offsprings of sin. Underlying the sin of hypocrisy is the desire to look good before others. That is why it is fundamentally the sin of pride. We want to be appreciated, recognized, liked, adored and even worshipped. It comes from our insecurity and the desire to be accepted and admired. As a result, we try to appear good, righteous, holy and kind. But deep in our hearts, we know that we are not. So, for the sake of public image we appear to be that kind of person.
By so doing, who we are and what we are suffer a dichotomy. We live a double life; a public life where we project ourselves to be the person that people expect of us; and a private life where we are anything but the public persona we project. We try hard to live up to people’s expectations, projecting a confident, self-made and happy facade. But deep within us, we are insecure, lonely, empty and tired. This accounts for why many of us live a double life, including priests and religious. They try hard to live up to peoples’ expectations, but they suffer an emotional and psychological misfit. This explains why some celebrities commit suicide, to the surprise and dismay of their many fans. And we are scandalized to find religious people and professionals who are pedophiles, or are having extra marital affairs.
Hypocrisy leads to a loss of our real identity. We want to believe that we are that kind of person when we are not. We seek to be holy and do things people expect of us. We think we are worshipping God with all our pious acts and rituals, but we are in truth worshipping ourselves. We think we are serving our people, but in reality, we are serving ourselves because we want appreciation and recognition. We do not worship or serve God or people with the right motive.
What is even more devious is that hypocrisy leads to self-righteousness. When we think we are so good and holy, or so efficient and hardworking, we begin to despise others who cannot do as much as us. We condemn others who fail in their moral life. We pass judgement on them as if we are sinless ourselves. We pick at the faults of others, always looking and judging others, instead of looking at our own failings. We make ourselves the judge of others, wanting to take out the splinter from our neighbour’s eyes whilst failing to see the beam in our own eyes. (cf Mt 7:1-5)
This sin of hypocrisy is supported by lying and boasting. We tell all kinds of lies to cover up our sins and failings. We are afraid to tell the truth for fear that people might not love us once they discover our weaknesses. They are always boasting of what they are doing and how much they have accomplished in life. They like to show off their wealth, their generosity, their kindness and their good deeds. It is all about creating a good image.
But are we that different from the Pharisees? They were the supposedly good Jews from the Old Covenant. They were trying to make themselves the model of how a true Jew should conduct himself. Unwittingly, they ended up being hypocritical because, as the Lord said of them, “For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Mt 23:13-15 cf Mt 23:1-36)
Indeed, we are also the hypocrites of the Christian Faith. We come to church to worship God but we quarrel at the car park and in church over seats. We park our cars inconsiderately, blocking residents’ gates, and take our time removing our cars after service, preventing others from leaving. We receive communion just because everyone else does, even when we are in mortal sin. We serve in Church ministries, but at home and at work, we order people around and do nothing to help them. We go for seminars, growth talks and devotions but we do not live out the gospel life. We do holy things but do not live holy lives. So who are we to condemn the Pharisees when we are the new ones.
Today, the Lord warns us of the danger of hypocrisy. Sooner or later, we will be exposed and we will have nowhere to hide our faces. “Everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. For this reason, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in hidden places will be proclaimed on the housetops.” Indeed, the truth about ourselves, our character and the motives of our deeds will be revealed and we will be put to even greater shame. Even if we are not, we cannot live in peace but always in fear because of the possibility that we will be exposed one day. St John wrote, “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God.” (1 Jn 3:18-21)
Today, we are reminded of who we are. We are the chosen ones of God, not because of our merits but simply because of His grace and love. “It is in Christ that we were claimed as God’s own, chosen from the beginning, under the predetermined plan of the one who guides all things as he decides by his own will; chosen to be, for his greater glory, the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came.” So we do not need to prove ourselves to be loved by God. He loves us as we are. We are His adopted sons and daughters. Of course He wants us to share in the fullness of His life and love. This is what it means to be chosen for His greater glory. That is why we can live a life of freedom and peace. “Now you too, in him, have heard the message of the truth and the good news of your salvation, and have believed it; and you too have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise, the pledge of our inheritance which brings freedom for those whom God has taken for his own, to make his glory praised.”
Flowing from this new identity, we are called to live it out so that we can become who we are meant to be. St Peter said, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.” (2 Pt 1:10f) St John in a similar vein wrote, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 Jn 3:2f) This means that we are not perfect now. God knows that and He accepts that we are not what and who we should be as yet. It is a process of becoming God’s adopted sons and daughters. He is patient with our growth and He waits for us to grow in grace, slowly but surely.
So flowing from the gratitude of being called and chosen, we strive to live according to our new identity, not with our own strength but with His grace. This is what the psalmist says. “Happy the people the Lord has chosen as his own. For the word of the Lord is faithful and all his works to be trusted. The Lord loves justice and right and fills the earth with his love. They are happy, whose God is the Lord, the people he has chosen as his own. From the heavens the Lord looks forth, he sees all the children of men.”
Hence, we can afford to be authentic people. We recognize we are sinners and yet to be saints. So let us not be afraid to admit our weaknesses and at the same time focus on our growth in Christ-likeness more and more. This is what the Lord is asking of us. He is asking us to be authentic when He said, “To my friends I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. I will tell you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has the power to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Can you not buy five sparrows for two pennies? And yet not one is forgotten in God’s sight. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. There is no need to be afraid: you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.” Indeed, the Lord is with us and He will protect us from hypocrisy even as we strive to be His true sons and daughters. But let us not allow people’s judgment to affect us. Rather, we should accept God’s judgement instead, as St Paul said. “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” (1 Cor 4:4f)
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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