In today’s short 8 verse gospel reading from Luke, we encounter Christ once again taking on a religious leader. Why was He continuously running into opposition from the religious leaders? Jesus identifies the reason in one word “Hypocrite.” Hypocrisy is a false reality, a delusion built upon lies. It comes from the father of lies, and has no part in God Who is the Way the Truth and the Life. A spirit of hypocritical religiosity develops when we think we know the rules and are doing a pretty good job of keeping them. At least certainly better than many around us. We can then take great satisfaction that we are “not like them,” in the process isolating ourselves from suffering humanity and also therefore from Christ.
The common suffering people knew they needed help, they welcomed the Saviour and cried out, “Lord have mercy” when they encountered Christ. Christ came to heal the sick and suffering. If everything is just peachy who needs Him? As Jesus said (Matt. 9:12,13) “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means ’I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Today’s ruler saw himself as far superior to the common people. He was a leader of leaders, even daring to straighten out God Himself! What a great and complete tragedy when we are so deluded in our self assessment that we don’t count ourselves with the sick and needy, that we somehow think of ourselves as doing just fine, having no need for the Great Physician.
The dictionary defines “hypocrite” as “a pretender, a liar, one who engages in the same deeds they condemn others for.” Hypocrites think very highly of themselves and expect everyone else to do the same. Everything is about them. Whenever we read the gospels, it is a good exercise to ask God to show us our sinful and broken ways. We should learn to identify with the deluded sinner in these gospel passages rather than congratulate ourselves that surely, we would have behaved better. The one thought leads to self congratulation; pride and blindness, the other to humility, repentance and illumination to awareness of our great need for God’s love and forgiveness.
Throughout the scriptures we are given the antidote for the sin of hypocrisy. In Matthew 6, Christ instructs us we are to pray, give alms, and fast in secret, and above all forgive everything and everyone always, without exception. We are to check our motives to see if we are doing or saying things, so others can be impressed with us. If so, this is hypocrisy, it is simply feeding our pride. St. Paul tells us where to train our minds to focus (Phil,4:8) “Finally brethren, whatever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy – meditate on these things.” Finally we are to (Rom.12:15,16) “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep….Do not set your mind on high things but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.”
Of course, we are told the opposite everywhere in our culture. As usual Orthodoxy is Paradoxy. We are trained to keep up appearances. We must put our best face forward to get ahead. Dress for success and fake it till you make it, is the advice of the business success guru’s in the human potential movement. The problem with following this advice is not just that we spend a lot of money on really bad clothes; but that we begin to lose touch of what we really feel, and even who we really are. We become increasingly self- deluded and unwilling to challenge ourselves and our image of ourselves. We somehow think that if it gets out, even to ourselves and God that we are sinners, we will be ruined. But God knows we are sinners and loves us completely and unconditionally anyway. It is we ourselves who need to recognize the depth of our sin, so we can go to Him and be healed and soak in His love. The problem isn’t just that we are sinners; we have the entire human race for company in this, the problem is that we don’t recognize our condition, and therefore we don’t flee to Christ for healing. The Christian journey is a life of repentance. The best cure for hypocrisy and self delusion is to find fault with ourselves and repent. This is one reason the Church gives us the Jesus prayer. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me a sinner.
The synagogue ruler becomes a hypocrite by denying reality. The reality he is denying is that before him stands Christ the Messiah, God Himself in the flesh. That’s a pretty serious and non-negotiable reality. Christ continually demonstrated this truth to the Jewish leaders and everyone else, fulfilling all the prophesies of the coming Messiah, healing the sick, even raising the dead. Delusion doesn’t work well as a coping mechanism. Once we deny the truth, things start to fall apart. We are living in unreality, in a phantasy, as only truth is real. Everything opposed to truth really has no substance. When exposed to the light of God’s illumination or fire it simply burns up. Christ said to Pilate (John 19:37) “…for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate had no understanding of God’s absolute true and unchanging reality “What is truth?” he cynically says. This is always the world’s answer to considering God’s absolute truth. My truth is as good as your truth, and the greatest wrong you can do is to claim otherwise. Truth is relative; read – non-existent, has become our culture’s mantra.
We however believe truth exists whether you wish to accept it or not. God is truth and denying this leads to delusion. When we deny reality, we then must invent an alternate reality, a delusion. So, the synagogue leader explains why this miracle that Christ just did was NOT a sign of the Messiah. In refusing to consider that his world-view could be wrong, he builds up a “delusion.” As soon as we need to defend a delusion, we become an enemy of the truth. We then blame and attack truth as being false, replacing it with our version which supports our position. The leader can’t deny a miracle has been performed, but belittles this glorious fact claiming that surely the Messiah would never do such a healing miracle on the Sabbath. He says this with great certainty and authority.
Like the ruler of the Synagogue, we too, often deny true reality. We too, feel compelled to hang on to and share our alternate view of reality and deny the simple truth before us. We have all constructed an idealized image of ourselves and we protect ourselves from pain and vulnerability by hanging on to it fiercely. This is our world view, our carefully constructed self which we present to the world. It is painful to allow ourselves to even consider that we have constructed a false image and are not being real; that we are missing the mark and not seeing true reality and living a lie. Christ says (Mark1: 15) “…the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” This is the cure. As we see where we are not living in truth, where we are twisting truth and reality to fit our delusions, acting out of fear, self-interest, self-preservation, and pride; we need to thank God for this revelation, to repent and confess our sins in this area to “Get Real.”
But instead, we often stubbornly insist that our delusion, our twisted version of reality is the real truth. We desperately need to prove we are right. We are the righteous ones, the suffering, martyred and wounded ones. Proving we are “right” becomes all consuming. It is that other guy, usually our mate or co-worker or boss, or perhaps another parishioner or even your friendly neighborhood priest who just doesn’t understand. Then we enter into the third stage of hypocrisy, blame, and our hearts start to crust over. “It’s all their fault. If they had just noticed how hard I was trying, that my motives really are good. I may have reacted poorly, who wouldn’t under those circumstances? The solution is obvious, they need to change. If they would just; give me some space, quit trying to control me, be a little more understanding, realize how stressed I am, just get off my case I wouldn’t have to react like that. It’s really all their fault.” If we keep on this path of blame, feelings of love and respect wither and fade. Without forgiveness and repentance, the delusion creates a very lonely life filled with anger, pain, anxiety and fear. The opposite of blessed communion in co-suffering love with Christ and our brothers and sisters.
Addiction councillors of course deal with this reality every day. The practicing alcoholic or other addict, has an arsenal of alternate realities designed to keep them from having to admit that it really is their problem. Only when the results of their actions become so horrific that they are finally at a loss to justify their behaviour, leaving them unable to blame someone or something else for their actions – is there hope for change and healing.
We can all see the problem when it is extreme, as in today’s synagogue leader or in the addicted person. But we all suffer from this same disease. It is called sin. When our partner, boss or co-worker, classmate, parent or child, point out a simple reality, a problem in our behaviour, we should be most grateful. But instead, if we often quickly dismiss it and explain why they just don’t understand, and then go on to explain how things “really” are. “I had to speed because you hate being late after all.” “I have to yell because you don’t listen to me!” “I had to curse him out because he drives like an idiot.”
Hypocrisy, self-delusion and blame is a commonly shared human characteristic. The enemy is the father of lies, and does everything in his power to convince us to believe them. Any lie or delusion we adopt pleases him greatly. Indeed, in the right hands, like Hitler or Stalin or the architects of the Residential school system, these lies can be used to promote great human suffering. But of course the main lie he is always trying to instill in us is the original one (Gen.3:4). Forget God, you can go your own way and be gods.
We often tend to think we need to perform in a manner acceptable to God and our brothers and sisters, or we will be unlovable. Christ would have us know that we are completely loved just as we are. We can never increase His love and acceptance of us by our performance. His love for all of us is always constant and unconditional. While it is true that our actions can bring great grief and trouble into our life, God’s love for us is in no way affected. It is we ourselves who need to recognize the depth of our sin, so we can go to Him and be healed. Sin is simply not turning to God. We see the problems in the other guy, but only by seeing them in ourselves can we grow in Christ. The same problems that we see in the other guy, are likely the same ones we ourselves suffer from, but are not yet able to face. Yet even as we reap the sad consequences of our sinful deluded behaviour, God will use these dark moments in our lives to teach us at the deepest level that we are completely loved by Him. Christ is always with us unto the end of the ages. Once we allow His love to begin to settle into our hearts, we can start to let go of the false self-image we so carefully constructed, and discover who we really are – the wonderful person God created us to be. With the feast!