Hypocrisy – 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

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There are times when the scribes and Pharisees can teach us a few important things. Today, for instance, the Gospel account shows the wisdom of washing hands, washing items from the market and washing cups, pots and bronze kettles. Good practical advice! Jesus and his followers would probably get publicly called out and shamed in our COVID day and age – eating with defiled hands. Who knows what they are picking up and spreading? I, for one, would be very reluctant to shake hands.

Of course, we understand the real point that Jesus is making. He is critical of hypocrisy. Isaiah says it for him: “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me …” Is there harmony between what I say and what I do? Jesus goes on to enumerate the sins that come from within, from the human heart.

We have an intimate knowledge of what lurks within and make us feel dirty. Our evil intentions defile us. Most of us do not intend to have those thoughts and feelings. They often arise from us in a moment of spontaneity.

None of us is a stranger to the sin of hypocrisy. We see illustrations daily when we hear about the lives of church leaders, politicians and businesspeople. It’s probably one of the most common sins for which we have public evidence. It’s an age when shrewd investigative reporters can dig up your statement from many years ago and place it in juxtaposition with your recent activities.

Taking a Caribbean vacation during a time of COVID quarantine? Scandalous spending in opposition to stated values from early in your career? Living in opulence, despite a stated commitment to Gospel values? Hypocrisy is so easily proved.

In my theological studies, there was a distinction between declared values and actual practice. Declared versus operative theology. What you say that you believe in, as opposed to what you actually do when confronted with the reality of a pastoral situation. I may know what Canon Law or the Catechism say about X or Y. But what is the pastoral moment calling for? Politicians and religious leaders are guilty of blurring the distinction between declared and operative.

Guess what! We all – or, at least, most of us – blur that distinction. Most of us are hypocrites. I have met very few people whose words and actions are always consistent. We use wonderful words, but our actions are not always in agreement. It comes up frequently for parents, teachers, and others who are in daily contact with young people. Do what I say, not what I do. I know that I often espouse certain values in my homilies and spiritual direction, and then, I view how I actually live.

It’s too easy for us to point to the hypocrite across from us. Let those who are without sin, cast the first stone. We are all the woman caught in adultery. If we are honest, we all know our sin. That fact calls us to be humble!

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Dallas McQuarrie
    Posted at 06:03h, 29 August Reply

    Hypocrisy is so very easily seen in others, but so difficult to purge from our own lives. There are, for example, studies that document the fact that a great many people who self-identify as ‘Christian’ and tout the Bible as the infallible world of God never actually bother to read the Bible (see The Altars Where we Worship by Juan Floyd-Thomas, Stacey Floyd-Thomas & Mark Toulouse). We wax eloquent in proclaiming the sacredness of life, but consistently elect governments with an easy toleration of poverty, despite the fact that poverty, as well as making forcing people into lives of quite desperation, also shortens life spans by as much as 20 years.
    Speaking the Word of God to Israel, Isaiah tells us to “bring the homeless poor into your house’ and Jesus commands his followers to “feed the hungry, care for the sick, welcome the stranger,” and so very much more. Yet the homeless and hungry wander our streets and there are those who try to refuse Christ entry into Canada by protesting the admission of refugees and immigrants. Yet, Jesus also said ‘just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me,” but so many people have completely expunged such thoughts from their minds even before they get out the door after Mass.
    Indeed, our own Church faces charges of hypocrisy for proclaiming ‘justice for all’ to the world, but practicing system discrimination in its own daily operations. How many of us have stood in public forums and taken part in peaceful demonstrations demanding an end to the massive and on-going destruction of the Creation that God declared was “very good”?
    There is no greater need for evangelism in the name Christ today than in the developed world and in the Churches that serve the developed world. The Book of James points the way forward when it says “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” Jesus also said “you are my friends if you do what I command,” but still we allow hunger, poverty, racism, and other actions in our society that are simply the scourging of Christ in our time. Proclaim the word of God not only in mere speech, but in truth and action. We need to glorify God with our lives because the roar from our actions drowns out the whisper of our words.

  • Vicky Chen
    Posted at 06:50h, 29 August Reply

    This is thought provoking. I remember preparing a talk for my residents eons ago on lying. We tell white lies quite often during the day. Someone asks me how am I doing. I say fine. The opposite is truth-dumping which can be even more uncharitable. I like the teaching of St. Ignatius of Loyola. No idle words. Just have to reflect and discern. This is a daily challenge of being alive. I am very grateful for your insightful article! Thank you, Fr. Phil.

  • Paul v
    Posted at 07:35h, 29 August Reply

    Thanks Father…. we truly are living in the age of throwing stones….perhaps The Stone Age?

  • John Montague
    Posted at 08:55h, 29 August Reply

    Well said. Thank you Philip.

  • suzanne renaud
    Posted at 18:23h, 29 August Reply

    So true! That is me! Humility is very hard to carry in every day life! Thank you for this insightful article!

  • Henry Mandamin
    Posted at 18:25h, 29 August Reply

    I think we can be cynical people if we think we know so much , my thoughts

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 10:20h, 30 August Reply

    Thank you Philip!

  • Dee Sproule
    Posted at 08:12h, 31 August Reply

    Guilty. Thank you for shining the light, and exposing the darkness.

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