Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 22, 2017

Deacon Blaine Barclay


Jesus is known for his tender mercy, his bottomless compassion toward sinners.  He was accused of being a drunkard because he hung out with people who no doubt liked to have a few pops.  He taught that hookers and treasonous tax collectors will get into the kingdom of heaven before self-righteous religious types.  He said things like, ’judge not least you be judged’, and, ’blessed are the merciful for they will obtain mercy.’ To the woman caught in the act of adultery he said, ’neither do I condemn you.’ Of course, he also said, ’go and sin no more’, because after all, Jesus was not a moral relativist, and the gospel calls us to a radical conversion of lifestyle.  But you get the idea, Jesus was and is for us the human face of God’s tenderness.  He came to heal the festering wound of sin, not to condemn sinners.

He was and is moved with heartfelt compassion for the lost sheep, the prodigal son or daughter, the excluded outsider, the tax man working for the despised Roman occupiers, the marginalized sex worker.  Yes, he came to call sinners, all of us, each one of us as if we were the only one, to repentance, because each one of us is loved with a bottomless love, right down to the bottom of who we are.

So why is Jesus so tough on hypocrites?  Some of the harshest words that ever came out of the mouth of Jesus were addressed to self-righteous religious people who had fallen into the sin of hypocrisy.  Not just in our Gospel today, where people were trying to trap him with their lying words; presenting him with a dilemma, the choice between a rock in a hard place, so to speak, where either solution could lead to his downfall, but in general terms. ’White washed tombs’, ’brood of vipers’.  The ones who walked by the wounded man on the road.  The person in church who is secretly glad that they are not like other people are.  Jesus even uses biting sarcasm against self righteous religious zealots. ’Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone’. ’Hypocrites all’, ’whoever warned you of the wrath to come’?

Not given mercy because we do not show mercy.  Excluded because we exclude the other.  Finding ourselves outside because we divided the world up into insiders and outsiders, making sure we defined ourselves as part of the ‘in’ crowd. We recognize that Jesus is all about reversals; ’The first shall be last, the last shall be first, the Samaritan is a good person, the smallest of all seeds grows into a great tree, the lost are found, the blind see, whereas those who say they see are blind, outsiders are insiders, self-thinking insiders are outsiders, etc.

So, what is it about the sin of hypocrisy that makes it exceptional?  Is it because the hypocrites already define themselves as the exception? ’I thank you Lord that I am not not like other people are’. The word ‘hypocrite’ originally referred to an actor on the stage.  They were the one projecting their self under and through the mask of their stage persona.  It is really all about being a phony, a fake person, a false self, the projected self that we want other people and ourselves to think we are, instead of the wounded, vulnerable self of the crucified, the one in solidarity with all the victims of history.

And let’s not try to get around Jesus’ harsh treatment of hypocrites by reducing it to some kind of anti-Pharisee polemic limited to the time of Jesus, as if the problem of self righteous religiosity was only a problem for other people, not for us, not for me.  I am a hypocrite sometimes. There is a great danger here for all of us who want to take our faith seriously. Hypocrisy is like a leaven, it affects the whole. These texts are scripture, as such, they are a living word.  The gospel today is addressed to you and me, not just somebody else, way back when. ’Now is the time.  Now is the day of salvation’, says St. Paul.  Our baptism calls us to die to the false self, the idolatrous self, like the image of Caesar on the coin in our story.  This hypocrite self has drowned in the waters of baptism.  The new self created and re-created in the image of God, rises to new life. ’Give to Caesar what is Caesars’, let it drown in the Red Sea, drowned in the waters of Baptism. ’Give to God what is God’s’, namely, ourselves as the image of God.  In all our poverty, taking off the garments of the false self, with the availability of those who have nothing to claim for themselves, without hypocrisy, with the transparency of the child, let us give ourselves to God.