Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Year B Advent 2 Wed A Little Christmas Hypocrisy
Year B Advent 2 Wednesday, 13 December 2017
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“A Little Christmas Hypocrisy”
Matthew 23: 1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Jesus had issues with teachers. Jesus had issues with priests. Even at my ordination sermon, my friend who was preaching reminded me that “Jesus did not have much nice to say about priests.” But here I am.
Our teacher, Jesus, the Messiah, introduced the term hypocrite into the philosophical vocabulary of the world, by taking a stage term and placing it squarely at the feet of those in authority, especially interpreters and teachers of the law. We, who take on those roles, are held to a higher standard. I think much of the ugliness in our politics these days is because for too long we have not held our leaders and our interpreters of the law to these higher standards in all aspects of their lives, and the piper has come for his pay.
I am always cautious around what I say and do not say following Jesus’ admonition to those who put stumbling blocks in others’ spiritual journey, that it would be better for them to have a millstone hung about their neck and then flung into the sea. (Matt 18:6, Lk 17:2, Mk 9:42) These are not light words.
When we think on our hypocrisy, and admit it, it’s there. My teenage daughter reminds me of mine far too readily for my tastes, but it is good for me. When we think on our hypocrisy, this is an opportunity to hear from Jesus what we are to do, “You have one instructor, the Messiah.” We need to learn from him, from what he said and just as importantly what he did and did not do, and apply to our everyday, going-about-our-business lives.
A few years ago some inventive person stole a phrase from a hundred year old book and slapped it on everything. WWJD? was proudly and broadly proclaimed. What Would Jesus Do? Had the entrepreneur copyrighted it he would have made a bigger killing. Too often though, I wanted to say HWYKWTDIYDNKWHD?
(How Will You Know What To Do If You Do Not Know What He Did?)
Those who bought the hat and got the t-shirt, how many had read all of the New Testament, or all the Gospels even? It is easy to project what we think Jesus would do, and that is why we see Jesus used to promote all kinds of things, guns, nation’s flags, anything. It is naive and heart-breaking. And I think it goes back to those stumbling blocks we mentioned.
Our hypocrisy is what Jesus warns us about. The word comes from the Greek word for actor. An Actor was called a hypocrite. And that comes from hypo- meaning under, and -crit meaning judgment. One who steps on the stage is “under judgment.” When we get out there, opposite of Sunday’s sermon, and say “Look at me!” we are automatically “under judgment.” So in essence, we have a wonderful double meaning. When we say one thing and do another, we are “acting.” And we are also, “under judgment.” Jesus was one smart cookie.
As we move into this wonderful time of year, it is so easy to get distracted with the bells and the carols, the ribbons and packages, the details and the stresses, and forget what it is all about, and who it is all about. And that would be hypocritical.
As I was leaving my house this morning, and noticed all the decorations on the houses around ours. I saw the garlands and lights. And then I looked at our house. We have not even had time to get the boxes out of the attic yet. And yet, I think of how my family is keeping Christmas in our actions (hopefully), and that the outward appearances are just that. Outward. And Jesus wants us to choose the Inward if there is a choice. “Man looks at the outward appearances, but God looks on the heart.” I Sam 16:7