“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:5
Did you ever wear masks as kid? Playing make believe or on Halloween? This may be an alien concept to post-Modern, Uber-hip Homo Contemporaneous humanoids too concerned with the “social message” sent by their children donning masks which may have some hint of misogyny, inadvertent cultural appropriation, veiled gender identification intolerance, embedded racism, or pigmentation privilege. Clearly, their social antennae are more acutely attuned than those of us who simply like a good laugh.
Society seems to place a premium on being socially and politically correct in public
The “enlightened” enjoy a more refined sense of socially acceptable public visage than true matters of the heart. They know what their friends/followers/fans need to make sense of their own personality oddities and cater to those gaps or shortcomings daily.
Society seems to place a premium on being socially and politically correct in public. Say the right things, and the people will approve. Don’t question someone’s private behavior, mind you – what matters is what they say and do in front of an audience or a camera. The “mask” they wear matters more than the face they bare in private.
I was reminded of this recently when considering Jesus’ final public sermon. Parts of this sermon can be found in Mark and Luke, but to get the full impact we must turn to Matthew 23.
First, a bit of context. The time is Tuesday or Wednesday during the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry. A couple of days earlier, Jesus entered Jerusalem hailed as the prophesied Jewish Messiah by thousands who had made their way to the city for Passover.
For three years Jesus had taken his message across the Judean landscape, tirelessly healing and teaching and preaching in synagogues from Bethsaida, Banias and Caesaria Philippi, to Bethany, Jericho and Jerusalem. By day he taught and at night would find rest with friends and acquaintances. (As a side note, I found one interesting commentary that during his ministry alone Jesus walked over 4,000 miles.)
So now Jesus is in Jerusalem for his last fateful visit. As a prelude to his final public message his first act was to enter the Temple courts where he would teach and share the next three days. He immediately noticed several things: the money changers who converted non-Jewish coins into temple-acceptable tribute-paying shekels (and always at a premium to turn a profit); the dove and pigeon sellers who sold “acceptable sacrifices” at exorbitant prices; the sellers of cattle and sheep who offered these animals as Temple sacrifices, again at crushingly inflated rates.
Infuriated, Jesus overturns the merchants’ tables, temporarily interrupting the revenue flow of the Temple priesthood. Most scholars believe this was the final straw that set the Jewish authorities on a course to organize his arrest. Follow the money. An interesting debate has existing since the New Testament accounts first appeared on whether Jesus did this at the end of his ministry (as told in Matthew, Mark, and Luke), at the beginning of his ministry (as told in John), or both at the beginning and end. An well-reasoned explanation can be found here.
Next, Jesus begins addressing the gathering crowds in either the Court of the Gentiles or perhaps more likely the Court of Israel. An astonishing series of lessons follows, beginning with a direct challenge by the Temple rulers to his theological authority and continuing as he tells three parables (the Two Sons, the Tenants, and the Wedding Banquet), refutes Pharisees trying trap him on over a question of Roman Imperial Loyalty vs. Loyalty to God (paying taxes), defeats an attempt by the Sadducees to ensnare his understanding of scripture in a question of marriage after resurrection (of course, the Sadducees didn’t actually believe in the Resurrection), answered the question of which is the greatest commandment and then to the delight of the crowds stunned the Pharisees into embarrassed silence by proclaiming the Messiah was greater than David.
It’s likely these teachings and public rebukes of Jewish authority took place over a couple of days. Yet while Jesus was probably drained and physically/mentally exhausted at the end of every day, the words, the challenges, the debates, all served to set the stage for what came next.
Jesus dismantles the moral authority of the Jewish order
On that Tuesday or Wednesday before he left the Temple for a final time to return to Bethany to rest and prepare for Thursday’s climatic arrest, Jesus turned his attention away from the Pharisees and focused again on the crowd. Yet his words were aimed like a heat-seeking blistering spear directly at the heart of the malignancy he knew the Priesthood had become.
Jesus’ open comments were devastatingly effective: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” (Emphasis mine).
*BOOM* In three sentences and 38 words (well, in the English translation at least), Jesus utterly dismantles the entire moral authority of the formal Jewish order declaring the whole priesthood corrupt and false. And he’s just getting started.
“Everything they do is done for people to see,” he says. Does this sound oddly familiar to what we see today in both the Church and secular worlds? “They love the place of honor at the banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues.”
Jesus then proclaims seven “woes” on the Pharisees and teachers – accusing them of shutting the doors of the Kingdom against the people, of turning their so-called “saved” into children of Hell, of being blind guides, of tithing from abundance but ignoring the matters of justice and mercy, of caring more for appearances than for substance, of murdering prophets, and finally foretelling with ominous prophetic vision that God Himself had left the Temple would not return to their presence until they accepted Jesus as the anointed Messiah.
So much for Charles Wesley’s “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild.”
The point is this. For three years Jesus preached and taught a message of salvation, a message of redemption through repentance and acceptance of Jesus as fulfillment of prophecy. In encounter after encounter Jesus healed, forgave sins, and invited the lost home to God’s loving Grace. Yet in his final public appearance he laid out the brutal truth that hierarchy inevitably leads to brazen hypocrisy, false teaching and death.
Where do we see this today? The halls of Congress? Media moguls and their sycophant followers? The lofty modern cathedrals of megachurch celebrity pastors with their mansions and private jets and overflowing bank accounts? The holier-than-thou congregationalists demanding their self-assigned pews but never speaking a single word to the homeless and broken?
Brothers and sisters, hypocrisy lies at the very center of societal decay. Jesus saw that in the Temple and in the heart of man. 2,000 years later very little has changed. To purge sin from our lives we can start with the masks we each wear every day – you and me.
Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself, regardless of who they might be. Sin no more. Ask for mercy. Simple words of Truth, powerful words of Life.