Lent, Day 17 — Hypocrisy

Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount

Hi, friends— I know this is a trying time. I hope these Lenten devotionals continute to offer you spiritual sustenance in this time of fasting from social interaction. Please let me know if you need to talk. You can email me at dave@saintjunia.org.

Whenever you give to the poor, dont blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, thats the only reward theyll get. But when you give to the poor, dont let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:2-4)

  1. Hypocrite. It’s a word that we use casually now. We usually mean “someone who says one thing and does another.”
  2. But Jesus invented this metaphor, and it’s actually less specific. It means simply “actor.” The word hypocrite meant a theater performer, someone who plays a role.
  3. Greeks introduced theater to the world. Actors in Jesus’s day wore elaborate masks with built-in megaphones. A mask was called a persona.
  4. I think a good substitute word is “Drama Queen.” Jesus is saying lots of religious people are simply drama queens, performing for public admiration.
  5. Today, when someone donates a large sum of money to a university, they often get a building named after them. This form of honor was even more showy in the ancient world. Honor was currency. If you gave a large sum of money to an organization, you could expect a statue of yourself and your family in the garb of royalty.
  6. When Jesus says “I assure [y’all]” he uses the plural form, because he’s talking to a group. But when he illustrates particular situations, Jesus switches to the first person singular pronoun: “Whenever you (singular) give.”
  7. For the record, I don’t think it is showy for a church to talk about the good things they are doing for a community. Recently, when churches have canceled medical debt, it has been a witness both to the good they are doing and the oppressive debt of our health care system. I think this is one way the church as a group can be a “light to the world” while we, as individuals, avoid “blowing a trumpet” or tooting our own horn.
  8. Sometimes in churches it is important for people to share their own story of giving, or what giving has done in their lives. This often gets done during the “stewardship campaign,” which is unfortunate. But if we do not talk about how giving changes us, we are failing to teach each other. This is different than Jesus’ illustration of how actors call attention to a particular act of generosity.
  9. I think Jesus’ challenge to us is to examine what’s going on under our persona, under our mask. The language about our left and right hand shifts our awareness to what’s going on in our own bodies and our own selves. Is there something we are trying to cover up with our performance of piety? Some kind of insecurity?
  10. Insecure people often shame other folks for being exceptional or doing good. If I feel you are getting “too big for your britches” I may feel it necessary to “take you down a notch.” I call you out as a hypocrite because I am a hypocrite. Humility, pride, hypocrisy: Sometimes religious people wield these words as a cudgel because they are insecure. (Jesus will talk about the log in our own eye in the next chapter.)
There is a different way to follow Jesus. We’re trying to live it and teach it. Support Saint Junia financially so we can keep it up!