August 30, 2009


Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites …. – Mark 7: 6

Our Lord could certainly be undiplomatic at times! Hypocrisy has always been problematic for us humans, in non-religious areas of life as well as religious, but it seems to take on an especially odious character when it is found in religious circles. Why is this so? Perhaps it is because we associate religious hypocrisy with self-righteous behavior & a phoniness, where a premium is placed on truth.

It has been argued that there are three degrees of hypocrisy: First is the deliberate, calculating, conscious hypocrisy. In 1990, there was a pop music group known as Milli Vanilli. They had five big hits, including three number-one songs. Then it was discovered they weren’t really singing on their records or at their concerts, but simply lip-synching. The actual vocals were by two former American soldiers who just didn’t have the “look” the record producer wanted. People were outraged, & Milli Vanilli had to give back the Grammy Award given to them for best new artist.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says that the Pharisees, like Milli Vanilli, were doing an Old Testament lip-synch. They were mouthing the appropriate words, but they were not singing God’s song. This type of hypocrisy is distasteful, to say the least – a moral fault that produces cynicism & distrust.

The second type concerns a dullness of spirit, a failure to understand the Gospel fully. A ditty by G.K. Chesterton catches the idea here: “The Christian Social Union was very much annoyed because there were some evils we really should avoid; & so they sang another hymn to help the unemployed.” This soft type of hypocrisy has become a mere moving of the lips with no effort to make a change of heart – all talk but no action to help.

Finally, there is the unconscious type which is dangerous because even the most well-intentioned person may be guilty of it. It requires a prophetic voice to call us to awareness of what is going on in our lives. I’ll never forget the day when I spent 45 minutes dumping all my complaints about the Episcopal Church on one of my Anglo-catholic colleagues while I was still an Episcopal priest. After I wound down, he said calmly, “If you really believe all that, why aren’t you Roman Catholic?” I was stunned. There was no judgment in what he said. There was something far more shocking: the truth. He gently showed me to myself & challenged my denial. This is something we all need to be aware of in our lives & align our actions with our faith.

In sum, no one should be here in Church today because they are perfect. We are all here because we stand in need of God’s grace & have no reason to think of ourselves as being better than anyone else. In short, we are hypocrites who KNOW we are hypocrites. None of us live up to what we profess to believe, & that knowledge is humbling. It is only by the grace of God that we have hope of redemption. AMEN!