Thursday, February 14, 2013

Is Hypocrisy Organic to Spiritual Life?

St. Matthew
Jesus never observed Lent nor was he a Christian. Although Thomas did worship Jesus in John 20:26 ff., in none of Jesus' words in the New Testament did Jesus ever command his followers to gather every Sunday or any other day to worship him.  What he did expect of his followers is that they would engage the spiritual disciplines core to life with him, such as giving, prayer, and fasting. 

But like a prophet who teaches by telling us what excesses to avoid, what temptations we will certainly face, so Jesus' words contain the kind of warnings that are organic to the spiritual life. Long before someone like Eugene Peterson ever penned his brilliant Working the Angles, it was of course said by prophets and sages before him, including Jesus. 

Jesus seems to like to use the word "hypocrite," and its frequency in the reading for Ash Wednesday from Matthew 6 is much more than a light caution before we get on with the supposedly main business of Lent. Matthew writes a gospel to the religious about the pitfalls of the worst kind of hypocrisy, the kind thinly covered by religious faith. Did Matthew the tax collector (read: thief) hear the epitaph directed against him?

Synonyms, such as deceiver, dissembler, pretender, and even pharisee, don't carry the freight of hypocrite. So here's the definition:

Hypocrite: 1. a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs. 2. a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.

God is not the One who is hard to know or difficult to understand. God's language and name is Love. We're the ones that are complicated. And because we don't like what we see about ourselves, we get defensive and concoct self-versions that are false, untrue and yes, hypocritical.   

As the ball gets rolling for Lent, isn't it significant that there's as much about not being a hypocrite  as anything else? Is it because whenever we honestly engage the spiritual disciplines, we are met with the most severe barriers within us- the ones of our own choosing? If seeing ourselves that way is painful, it can also be deeply freeing to  finally be ourselves, created in God's love and grace. 

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