27 August 2014

Hypocrisy is vicious

St. Monica
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

Our Lord is on a tear! Or rather, he's still on a tear. He's ripping into the Pharisees and scribes b/c their hypocrisy is making of God's children heirs to Gehenna. Calling down upon them the final Two Woes, our Lord breaks into their hearts – those white-washed tombs – and sees there the bones of dead men and “every kind of filth.” Bones and filth that nourish the rank hypocrisy of men who “strain at gnats and swallow camels,” who neglect “the weightier things of the law [like] judgment and mercy and fidelity,” and obstruct the way back to God. Jesus is angry. But his anger is righteous. And not simply b/c he's the Messiah but b/c those charged with making the way back to God straight and smooth are – out of their own need for glory – making God's way crooked and dangerous. All the while presenting themselves as pristine examples of holiness. Look at us. Listen to us. Follow us. We know the way. Imitate us. Jesus says of their hypocrisy, “You brood of vipers. . .you bear witness against yourselves.” Hypocrisy is not a uniquely Christian vice; however, our vow to bear witness to Christ and him alone makes Christian hypocrisy particularly vicious. 
Take a moment to just bask in the raw righteousness of Jesus' anger. Now take another moment to give God thanks that you are not like other men – those who pile up burdens on their people; those who create obstacles on the way back to God; those who demand obedience but rarely give it. Take a moment to praise God that you spend your days and nights bearing up under the gentle of yoke of Christ, gently but firmly preaching and teaching the Good News. Give thanks that your heart and your tongue never disagree. That your mind and your hands never fumble together. That your every thought, word, and deed plant in this world another seed of the Word. And pray that no one – especially Christ – may never rightly condemn you by saying, “You viper. . .you bear witness against yourself.” Why all this thanksgiving, prayer, and praise? B/c as men being made ready to show God's people the Way, you do not want to be credibly accused of hypocrisy, of bearing witness against yourself. 
Look at Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. Paul tells the church in Thessalonica how the followers of Christ properly bear witness to Christ: “For you know how one must imitate us. . .in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you. . .we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us.” Those who lead God's people along the Way do not pile up burdens on others nor neglect the hard work of service nor put themselves first to be seen and applauded and praised. For the Christian, especially the Christian pastor, the surest way to avoid hypocrisy is to make sure that the only witness you bear is your witness to Christ. Act and give him praise. Speak and give him thanks. Think and make your thoughts a prayer. And never fail to grant to all the gift you yourself have received: God's mercy. There is no better way to bear witness against yourself than to refuse to another that which you have gratefully received from God.

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  1. I've read this several times, and each time, I can think of nothing to say, except "yep." You have rendered me almost speechless! (in this case, that's a good thing) :-)

    1. Not sure how it was received at the seminary. . .no one made any comments.

    2. The first time I read it, I wasn't sure how to take it since I couldn't hear how your inflection. I was actually slightly confused (the thought of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector kept invading my thoughts), so I read it again more carefully and was pretty sure I understood what you were saying, especially knowing that you were preaching to the seminarians. By the third/fourth time, I was on board . . .