(Jer.20:10-13; Rom.5:12-15; Mt.10:26-33)
In the days of ancient Greece, the word for actor was hypocritēs. A hypocrite was someone who simply wore a mask and played the part of a character in a play.
But by New Testament times, that meaning had changed. A hypocrite became someone who wore a mask in real life, pretending to be something he wasn’t.
There are lots of examples of hypocrisy in literature, history and life – and dare I say it, in the Church. In Shakespeare’s Othello, for example, Iago appears as an honest and loyal friend, but deep down he’s a nasty man plotting to destroy the prince.
Do you remember Graham Richardson, the former Australian senator (1983-94)? He was a Minister in the Hawke and Keating Governments, and a ruthless political player. He was sometimes called the Senator for Kneecaps.
After he retired, he wrote his memoirs, Whatever It Takes. In them, he admits the duplicity, dishonesty and trickery he used to achieve political success.
The trouble with such hypocrisy, however, is that you can only hide the truth for so long; you can’t fool all the people all the time. As well, hypocrisy makes you live a double life; it causes you to live in fear; it destroys reputations and relationships; and it leads others astray.
It also draws us away from Jesus Christ.
In last week’s Gospel, Jesus summons his disciples and gives them a mission: to help and heal the lost people of Israel and to proclaim the kingdom of heaven.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples some good advice. He tells them (three times) that they should not be afraid, and he says that ‘everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear.’
‘What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight;’ he adds, and ‘what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops.’
In other words, live openly and honestly in the clear light of day, and most especially – avoid hypocrisy.
Jesus often thunders against hypocrisy; he knows it’s one of the most dangerous of sins. ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!’ he says in Matthew 23. ‘You’re like whitewashed tombs on the outside, but inside you are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean!’ (Mt.23:27).
In 2017, Pope Francis said that Jesus railed against hypocrites because the language of hypocrisy is the language of deceit. It’s the language the serpent used with Eve: it begins with flattery, and it ends up destroying people.
‘It tears the personality and soul of a person to pieces,’ he said. ‘It destroys communities and it hurts the Church.’ [i]
Psychologists tell us that the root of all hypocrisy is the desire to be loved and accepted without judgement.
But there is a better way to earn love and acceptance; it’s by living authentically, by living a life of genuine honesty and humility.
People who are honest and humble don’t need to lie. They don’t need to paint false pictures. They accept who they are, with all their strengths and weaknesses. They understand what they can and can’t do, and whatever’s missing they make up for with faith and love.
Jesus’ message for us today is this: if you are serious about being his disciple, if you are serious about living a good Christian life, then avoid hypocrisy, because there’s no reward in heaven for hypocrites.
Let’s close with a little poem from Grenville Kleiser (1868-1953), a Canadian who taught public speaking at Yale Divinity School:
You can fool the hapless public,
You can be a subtle fraud,
You can hide your little meanness,
But you can’t fool God!
You can advertise your virtues,
You can self-achievement laud,
You can load yourself with riches,
But you can’t fool God!
You can magnify your talent,
You can hear the world applaud,
You can boast yourself somebody,
But you can’t fool God! [ii]
Yes, ‘you can’t fool God.’
And there’s no point even trying to, for he’s already counted every hair on your head.