It’s easy to do! And that should be your first clue that something is very deeply wrong with you! Yes, you. Actually, I mean me!
I’m talking about the ease at which we will say we believe and then live as if that statement isn’t true at all! It’s easy to do; just get cut off in traffic and see how quickly your pious words ring hollow in the face of your losing your peace over traffic!
It’s easy to fall into that way of living. And there is an ugly word that describes this tendency of we humans to say we believe and then turn around and act in the opposite manner – Hypocrite!
Look at our Gospel Lesson this morning in Matthew 23:13-22:
The Lord said to the Jews who had come to him, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you devour widows’ houses and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive the greater condemnation. But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If any one swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If any one swears by the altar, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and he who swears by the temple, swears by it and by him who dwells in it; and he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.”
This passage is one of my favorite passages that we often read during Holy Week. It is read at the time we are remembering how the Lord confronted the leaders who were supposed to be pious and honest with the fact that they were impious and dishonest. That truth-telling to the guys in charge got Jesus in a lot of trouble.
And here in this passage, the Lord delivers several “woes” to the Pharisees. Remember, the Pharisees were the most strict and the most observant of the whole of Tradition. They were the Orthodox of the Faith in Jesus’ day. And the Lord confronts them!
His first Woe” to this group concerns how these so-called “very religious” people treated the helpless and needy. These “very religious” people were “devouring” the homes of widows. What a powerfully colorful phrasing. What could be worse than taking the home from a widow? And, especially in that culture, when a woman lost her husband in death, she was often made impoverished by this sad event. But Jesus confronts these “very religious” people and says they take advantage of the weak and needy then turn around and make a show of long prayers. Disgusting! And then the Lord tells them they would receive “the greater condemnation.” Let’s all agree, we don’t like these people!
The next Woe hits a little closer to home. These “very religious” people were not willing to enter the Kingdom of God. But they didn’t stop there with their cowardice. No! They then proceeded to prevent others from coming into the Kingdom as well!
Then Woe #3 accuses these “very religious” people of going out of their way to make others “very religious” people like themselves but twice as bad!
Woe #4 sees the Lord finally calling these “very religious” people for what they truly were – “blind guides.” He reveals that they were really nothing but money-loving monsters to the point that they considered the Holy Place nothing, but the offering brought to the Holy Place everything.
Jesus wasn’t pulling any punches with these leaders at all. And we all agree, we don’t like these people, those lousy Pharisees!
But wait, before we jump on the bandwagon hating on “those very religious” people, let’s check our own hearts. Do I come to church often but neglect to be generous to those in need? Do I ever live in such a way that those who see my life decide not to be Orthodox because of my choices and priorities? Have I ever worked really hard to convince someone else to adopt my opinions or perspective and those opinions and perspectives were more important to me than the Faith? What about times when I’ve been afraid of giving sacrificially because I valued my physical comfort more than my trust that God would take care of me? Maybe I’m not so different than these Pharisees that Jesus clearly confronts. Time to repent!
As we approach the Feast of the Dormition tomorrow, the Church has us call to mind the great Prophet Micah. St. Micah the Prophet served the people of Israel 8 centuries before the coming of Christ, and he marked his ministry with the same kind of straightforward preaching that Jesus displays today. He confronted the kings of Judah with their hypocrisy and demanded that these leaders do more than pay lip service to the wisdom of God.
Today, it’s easy to see the hypocrisy in others and say “naughty, naughty” to them. It’s much more difficult to allow the wisdom of God to confront the hypocrisy in my own soul. But that’s where we each have to start if our words and our actions are ever going to be in sync! I have to start with my own heart, and my own life, and allow the Holy Spirit to uncover WHY I say one thing but then do another. I will only, truly, have a real and Normal Orthodox Life when I start facing my own hypocrisy!
P.S. With the Holy Spirit’s beams were you enlightened, setting forth in prophecy the condescension of Christ God, O blest Micah; and by His grace we who revere you are saved from eternal death.
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