Can a person function in this world without being a hypocrite?
Thomas Merton says, “We never see the one truth that would help us begin to solve our ethical and political problems: that we are all more or less wrong, that we are all at fault, all limited and obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness and our tendency to aggression and hypocrisy.”
Nonetheless, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives his harshest criticism of hypocrites. The Pharisees were the richest most powerful people in the game. Considered the most holy in the Temple, they held considerable influence in society and with the government. Jesus didn’t shrink from them. He called them out for their hypocrisy with the tag phrase “You brood of vipers.” It is the only time in the Gospels where Jesus calls names.
He adds, “How can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of his store of treasure and the evil man brings evil things out of his store of treasure.”
What a powerful testament. The verdicts we render in our hearts are the professions of innocence or guilt in our actions.
When Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees for allowing his disciples to pick grain on the sabbath, he persists and heals a man with a withered hand in plain view of them – also a violation of the law. It inspired the Pharisees to consider a plot to kill him.
Seemingly passive and harmless in our day, but revolutionary acts in his day. Jesus was not a doormat when it came to calling out injustice. He asserted himself when called to do it. He spoke for the most vulnerable and was not afraid to call out a lie or that which he perceived to be contrary to the word of God.
He was holding Jews to account for the precepts of Judaism and a consistent ethic that would hold true for being an example as the “chosen people” for the world. The law that was written on his heart was righteous and beholden to this consistent ethic. As a result of his tenacious actions and his unwavering faithfulness to serving, he became the example of goodness right to the death.
His words and deeds teach us that the actions of honesty and integrity are the keys to fulfilling God’s promise on earth. One who excuses them or makes excuses is disowning himself from the promise.
There’s no mistake that in the same chapter Jesus exorcises a demon from a man and speaks the following words. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgive, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either in this age or the age to come.”
It is clear that a lie is the most blasphemous thing a person can do. When our leaders do it and followers buy into it, one can see how it perpetuates injustice. Those who support the lie are guilty of perpetuating it. A lie that flourishes undermines the Holy Spirit. It creates more disorder, more discord and more disunity among people.
Therefore, the goal for us should be to be true in seeking the truth and immerse ourselves in a consciousness of goodness; to disavow ourselves from dishonesty, to call out lies when they have been initiated, to breach the holy presence in mind, body and spirit and be honest with ourselves and our motives, to bear wrongs patiently but avow to correct them and make every effort to do so.
There’s plenty of hypocrisy to root out in businesses, our churches, our government and everyday dealings with our neighbors. Merton may be right that our insecurities and fear may stand in the way of doing right, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make every effort to reconcile with a greater good.
The mission should be clear. Shakespeare said, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”