I read the other day about a young man who received a maximum sentence for a crime—a sentence meted out because he refused to “apologize” and “show remorse”. Really? Oh, your honor … if the lad had simply mouthed the words of an insincere apology, you would have reduced the sentence for that reason alone?
How many times even weekly do we hear politicians, commentators or celebrities say inflammatory things, no doubt reflecting their true personal views. But let those inflammatory words spark a conflagration against their sponsors and bottom line, and then … well, “apologies” all around! True sorrow, or just damage control?
Appearance over substance. In its worst manifestation: hypocrisy.
We’re probably all hypocritical and dishonest to an extent; in fact, harmonious relations in some ways depends upon it. We may be grouchy and annoyed, but put on a good face in order not to upset others. Or the smile and forgiving wave to the person who cut you off in traffic, though cursing them all the while. And there’s the ominous “Do these clothes make me look fat?” catch-22—the correct answer being that upon which may rest a spouse’s very survival. These might be classified simply as aspects of willed courtesy and kindness for societal peace.
But then … there’s the other kind: the comradely backstabber, the false friend, the “smiling cobra”. I think I prefer the aforementioned young criminal; at least he’s being honest, and you know what you can expect from him.
When we read the Bible, we see hypocrisy everywhere—from Adam and Eve’s betrayal of God, to the Israelites abandonment of God prior to the Exile, to the most infamous betrayal of all: Judas’ betrayal of Christ with a kiss. Sometimes people complain about the violence, betrayals, infidelities, etc., in the Bible, but really those help establish the bona fides of scripture … demonstrating that historical scriptures are not an idealized moral story, but rather recount the reality of the successes, failures and struggles of real men and women, representative of all Mankind.
Now, the failing most evident in us Christians is our own glaring hypocrisy, of which we are all guilty, for “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8). We who claim to espouse the teachings of Christ fail in them. And thus St. Paul writes: “…you then who teach others, will you not teach yourself?…You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’” (Romans 2:21-24) In fact, this is one reason (ostensibly) that some people cease attending church on Sundays—because the place is “full of hypocrites!”
Well, sure. Heck … we admit it! But, as the old saying goes: the church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners. And one can describe a hospital in a couple of ways. First: “It’s a place of filth! Vomit! Disease! Pain! Contagion! Death!”. Or, conversely: “It’s a place of healing. Care. Relief. Selflessness. Comforting. Renewed hope. Even love.” It is this latter description and reality, which keeps the faithful returning week after week, month after month, year after year, and even generation after generation … to visit the Divine Physician.
There is, of course, a big difference between being hypocritical due to malice, and being hypocritical due to weakness. And yet, fault is not blithely dismissed even for weakness, for St. Paul writes: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) Whether we take that “way of escape” is the choice of our own will.
Christian denominations differ widely in their interpretation of the degree of responsibility to which we will be held for failures in following God’s teaching, but probably all agree that we should certainly strive to live more perfectly the example and teachings of Jesus—to live as “un-hypocritically” as we can. After all, if one looks up the word “hypocrite” in a Bible concordance, it is used predominantly—even almost exclusively—by Jesus excoriating such dishonesty. That fact in itself should be enough for every Christian to redouble his efforts at sincere fidelity.
The honest man, the honest woman. The man and woman of true substance. So admired, and yet whom so few venture to emulate and imitate. Alas … need they be so rare? Yet even the Greek philosopher Diogenes millennia ago walked with lighted lamp claiming to be searching for even one honest man.
We Christians claim to be followers of “the way, the truth and the life”, so let us keep before us Jesus’ own prayer to the Father for us: “Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth…And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.” (John 17:17-19) And let us, then, remember St. Paul’s exhortation: “…the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5).
Substance over appearance … so important; so admirable. So, O Christian, let us exhort and affirm with Joshua, now and always: “Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness…And if you be unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15)