TIME TO TAKE OFF OUR FACE MASKS OF HYPOCRISY
First Reading: Ecclesiasticus 27:5-8
Responsorial Psalm 91(92):2-3,13-16
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:54-58
Gospel Reading: Luke 6:39-45
With the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the face mask has come to be an indispensable wear for everyone in public places due to the belief that it helps prevent the spread of the virus; and as a result, it has come to be part of our fashion. Inasmuch as it brings discomfort when worn overtime, man has no choice other than to wear it either for preventive measures or in obedience to strict laws for its mandatory use in public places. Alternatively, many have come to use this piece of fabric for deception since it is capable of covering a greater part of the face – the nose, the lips, and the jaw; and when a dark shade (glasses) is used alongside the facemask, it becomes very difficult to identify an individual. This gives a very different appearance to the one who makes use of it in an attempt to hide their appearance, hence denoting their hypocrisy.
Interestingly, hypocrisy is a word originally used to describe actors who hid reality behind masks. It comes from the Greek, “hypokrisía” (υποκρισίαyÉ pokrisía) a, qualification of theater artists with the ability to imitate the speech, fake gestures, and manners of another person. However, currently, hypocrisy is the act of forging feelings, behaviours, and virtues that one does not have. It occurs when a person, incapable of being true, simulates a behaviour and demands from the other what he himself does not even have. Gradually this behaviour becomes a pattern, reaching a level where the mask becomes a face, making it practically impossible to separate them. Hypocrites manage to deceive many people for a long time; they are usually contradictory people who condemn others for the same crime they commit; they have a double standard of values: they apply to others penalties not applicable to themselves, and they have self-defence of humility and pity at the height of their arrogance.
Sadly, in the context of our Christian faith, many Christians tend to swim in this mechanism. There are those who claim to be more spiritual than others, but on a daily basis, they live in a prejudiced way, divert money, steal, lie, betray, but boast about going to church weekly and judge those who don’t. This becomes even more scandalous when such a person is a religious leader who claims to lead others along the right path, but is unfortunately on the wrong path as a blind guide. The truth remains that while one may deceive his fellowman by his hypocritical behaviour, they can never deceive God who probes the content of the heart and discern hidden motives (cf. Jer. 17:10).
On this 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time; after which we shall pause the Ordinary Time with the commencement of Lent on Ash Wednesday this week, the Church presents us the teachings of the holy sage, Ben Sira, and our Lord Jesus Christ, bringing about a unified truth, raising questions about the coherency between orthodoxy and orthopraxy (theory and practice), because what is at stake is whether we should believe what a person pronounces or if he or she is being hypocritical.
In the Gospel (cf. Lk. 6: 39-45), Christ puts it crystal clear: “Can one blind man guide another? Surely, both will fall into a pit (…) Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the splinter that is in your eye,’ when you cannot see the plank in your own?” Although Luke records that Jesus tells this parable to his disciples, the gospel of Matthew clearly explains that it was against the Pharisees that he exclaimed, “Leave them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And when a blind man leads a blind man, they will both fall into a pit “(Mt 15:14). It was to the Pharisees, above all, that on several occasions Jesus shouted his hypocrites! And, behold, today this terrible exclamation, “Hypocrites,” is found in a discourse addressed to his disciples, and therefore also to us: “Hypocrite! Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter that is in your brother’s eye.” Consequently, Christ puts a double comparison: that of the tree, which, if it is good, bears good fruit, and that of the man who speaks of the things in his heart.
In consonance, in the First Reading (cf. Ecclesiasticus 27:1-8), the holy sage exhorts us exactly on this very personal self-criticism: “in a shaken sieve the rubbish is left behind, so too the defects of a man appear in his talk (…) The orchard where a tree grows is judged on the quality of its fruit, similarly, a man’s words betray what he feels.” Recalling that St. Bede says, “the treasure of the heart is the same as the root of the tree,” therefore, the message of Ben Sira reminds us that the content of the heart would be finally uncovered and laid bare since the words (fruit) of his mouth speaks a lot about his deeds (the tree). Thus, the person who has a treasure of patience and perfect charity in his heart produces excellent fruits: he loves his neighbour and gathers the other qualities that Jesus teaches: he loves his enemies, he does good to those who hate him, he blesses those who curse him, he prays for what he slanders, he does not rebel against those who beat him or rob him, he always gives when asked, he does not complain about what they have taken from him, he does not want to judge and not to condemn, he corrects with patience and with affection those who err. But the one who has a treasure of wickedness in his heart does exactly the opposite: he hates his friends, he speaks evil of those who love him, and all other things condemned by the Lord.”
Dear friends in Christ, if we make a sincere examination of conscience and allow ourselves to be judged by the Gospel, we will be obliged to admit, (and maybe displeased), that we are all hypocrites at one point in time or another. Therefore, we are called today to examine ourselves properly at the various levels or degrees of our hypocrisy and take off that deadly mask and live out the true Christian calling before the hypocritical mask suffocates us to spiritual death. Christ tells us in Matthew 12:36-37: “So I tell you this, that for every unfounded word people utter they will answer on Judgement Day, since it is by your words you will be justified, and by your words condemned.” As such, Paul in the Second Reading (1Cor 15: 54-58), encourages us as Christians that God invested in us not to perish, but to be raised with Christ who destroyed death and has granted us victory. Therefore, we should never admit defeat, but keep on labouring earnestly that the good words we speak may correspond to the dictates of our hearts, enabling us to “flourish like the palm tree and grow like a Lebanon cedar, planted in the house of the Lord, and flourishing in the courts of our God…”, as put forward by the Psalmist (Psalm 91(92):2-3,13-16).
May the good Lord continually bless his words in our hearts. Amen.
Written by Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora da Immaculada Conceição, Paulo Ramos, Maranhão, Brazil
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PS: Have you prayed your Rosary today?