I’m guessing that most people would agree that hypocrisy is a a bad thing. Especially among “religious people.” Jesus certainly thought so, and there are some spectacular sections of the Bible where Jesus goes off on the hypocrites of his day. It’s a very real temptation to read these sections of the Bible and think to ourselves, “Yeah, this is good stuff for my parents… or the person from my home group… or the people from “that one church” or a certain “type” of church. Hypocrisy is something that’s very easy to see in others, but not so often in ourselves, and our communities, and our churches.
The fact is we’re all recovering hypocrites. Or, to take away any sense of blame-shifting — I am a recovering hypocrite!
There are these two moments from the middle part of the Gospel of Luke where people jump in on Jesus’ criticisms of the hypocrites among them — and in both cases, Jesus directly leads us back to the understanding that the seeds of hypocrisy are within each and every one of us. In the first instance, in chapter 11, Jesus’ is pointing out some of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (a specific sub-culture within Judaism at that time). Some of the other religious teachers (from a different Jewish sub-culture) are listening and thinking that they’re on the good side — since they “always" disagree with the Pharisees — but then they start to feel a little bit uncomfortable with how close the criticism is getting to their own ways of doing things. They pipe up, in verses 45 and 46. “Teacher,” said an expert in religious law, “you have insulted us, too, in what you just said.” “Yes,” said Jesus, “what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law!” And then he goes on to list out some of their hypocrisy, too. In the second instance, later, in the second half of chapter 12, Jesus is telling his disciples that they need to live with consistency and integrity — not just performing in some certain way because the spotlight happens to be on them. Instead, Jesus tells them that they need to be ready for God’s judgment at all times, like a homeowner being constantly vigilant against burglars. But again, one of the disciples (Peter) again pipes up, in Luke 12:41, and he asks: “Lord, is that illustration just for us or for everyone?” And Jesus answers that question by saying that it’s an illustration for anyone and everyone who will listen to it.
So all that goes to say: We need to seriously examine ourselves. And we need to ask for God to open our eyes to the hypocrisy in our own lives.
I’m pretty firmly convinced that we’re not so different from the Pharisees (and other religious teachers) from Jesus’ time. The word “Pharisee” has become almost like a synonym for “hypocrite” in our society; but that’s not entirely fair to the Pharisees. In truth, the Pharisees were good, moral people. They believed in a supernatural God who was actively involved with their day-to-day lives. They represented the “Common People.” So really, I don’t think it’s fair to think of them as the “Bad Guys.” But they did have some problems with hypocrisy. And this is one thing that Jesus would not leave unchallenged. Regularly and deliberately, he provoked the religious leaders where their hypocrisy was most obvious and problematic. In the middle chapters of Luke, Jesus speaks about the dangers of hypocrisy with remarkable candor and clarity, also offering something of an antidote to this poison in our lives. In particular, he points out five major areas of hypocrisy: (1) Factions, (2) Finances, (3) Reputation, (4) Religiosity, and (5) Knowledge.
As I studied through this section of the Bible, I was ashamed to discover some of the hypocrisy in my own life… but also kind of, well (I know it sounds strange to say this, but…) relieved. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been opening up about my imperfections and hypocritical tendencies — and I’ve found it to be remarkably liberating and healing. So I thought I would outline some of my studies from the middle chapters of Luke in five subsequent posts about this topic (relating to the five major areas of hypocrisy). And again, instead of making this a study about "sticking it to the Man" or calling out some particular denomination or church — instead of pointing fingers at others — I’m examining myself.
And if it proves to have some benefit for you examining your own life, so much the better.