The good 'hypocrite'

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A parish priest once met a parishioner in a park and chatted with him for a while. In the course of their conversation, the priest remarked that he had not seen him at Mass for a while. The man answered, “Father, I have stopped going to Mass.”

When asked why, he answered, “The church is full of people who not only beat their wives but are also womanizers, who are dishonest in their dealings with others, who gossip, gamble, drink, etc. In short, sinners and big ones, too. Because of what I know about them, I cannot stand to see them in church pretend to be praying fervently, singing their hearts out and beating their breasts contritely, and worst of all, receive Holy Communion. And to think that many of them are even active members of church organizations! Father, the church is just so full of hypocrites!”

Fully understanding what the man said, the priest responded, “Don't you know that is what the church is — a church of sinners? That is why all kinds of people are there. No, many of them who are there do not, as you say, pretend to pray fervently, sing their hearts out and beat their breasts contritely. Rather, they are there praying, singing and being contrite as best they can so that they may receive Holy Communion — Jesus Christ Himself — a little less unworthily. If they look like hypocrites to you, I like those kinds of 'hypocrites.' In fact, you can count me among them.” The priest ended by saying, “To be very honest and frank with you, the church has room for one more such 'hypocrite.' How about joining us in the church again?”

What is a hypocrite? The dictionary defines a hypocrite as “a person who pretends to have desirable qualities or publicly approved attitudes, beliefs and practices but actually does not possess them.” There are perhaps such people in church. But who are we to judge?

If there is anything that Jesus hates, it is hypocrisy. As Jesus has pointed out in his condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees, their problem is they emphasize the “outside” rather than the "inside" — the inmost concerns of the heart. This being so, there is need to look into our “inside” and discover its priorities. Is it to impress others? If so, then our concern becomes how we appear externally before others, for example, through the way we talk (filled with the trinity of I, me and myself), the clothes we wear, the jewelry and other bodily accessories we display, the house we live in, etc. For some of us, this may even include the way we practice our faith as the Scribes and the Pharisees did in Jesus' time. All these in order to project our self-importance.

Sincerity and truthfulness are the opposite of hypocrisy. In these virtues, the emphasis is on what lies “inside” of us. When we are sincere and truthful, we cease to be overly concerned with the “outside” since we believe that what matters in God's eyes is our “inside.” Among others it tells us that we would be no different from others if it were not for the grace of God. Thus we should only be hard on others to the same if not greater extent that we are hard on ourselves.

Jesus knows the kind of people we all are, how prone we are to sin. Yet He says to all of us, “Be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect.” We certainly can not be as perfect as the heavenly Father is. But with God's grace, we can aim to be less and less imperfect — every moment, every day, over a long period of time, a lifetime in fact.

Difficult? Of course. Impossible? No! Why not? Because Jesus has shown us how — some of which appear in today's gospel reading (Lk. 6: 39-45). For example, Jesus, while talking about the parable of the blind leading the blind, asked, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?... You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother's eye.” Here Jesus is teaching us that we can lead others only after he have accepted Him in faith. Thus the need for greater introspection in faith so that having discovered and acknowledged our sinfulness, we strive to make changes in our lives. Then only do we acquire, if at all, the “right” to correct and even lead others without both of us falling into the pit.

This does not mean that we are condemned to silence. No. But when we speak out on people and issues, we do so not out of self–righteousness as this only puts them off. Rather, we do so conscious of our own shortcomings — a trait we all share with others but with a difference — we constantly try to overcome them. Then and as one writer aptly puts it, “When our own scars glow in the dark, others will be inclined to heed our words.” Or in the words of Jesus, “From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”