Texts 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10; Galatians 2:11-21; St. Luke 7:36-50
Fill in the blank. “No I don’t go to church, it’s filled with too many _______.
You guessed it, “hypocrites.” The response to that statement that I would like to give, but never have is, “Well if it is filled with too many hypocrites then one more won’t really matter will it?”
I believe that this is such a common excuse for two reasons. First is because they are partially right, there are indeed hypocrites in the church. But second they offer this excuse because they don’t really know what a hypocrite is. Let’s tackle the second reason first.
People outside the church think that we are hypocrites for coming to church, claiming to be followers of Christ, when the truth is that we sin all the time. They mistaking think that we think that we are perfect. How can a sinner claim to be a Christian? Doesn’t that by definition make you a hypocrite?
The short answer to that is “no it does not.” Our gospel lesson clarifies this for us. While he doesn’t use the word ‘hypocrite” that was the Pharisee’s attitude toward the woman who was anointing and kissing Jesus’ feet. She is referred to in the text as “a sinner” and you can fill in the blank what that meant. So the Pharisee believed that she has no right to be in Jesus presence. Given who she was it seems hypocritical for her to be worshipping Him.
We get the word “hypocrite” from the Greeks and they used it for someone who acts in a play. It is wearing a mask or pretending to be someone else. Was this woman wearing a mask or pretending to be someone else? No. She was so broken that she was bathing Jesus’ feet with her tears. She knew that she was drowning and so she came to the only One who could save her. Calling her a hypocrite for being a sinner who comes to the Savior is like calling someone with a deadly illness a hypocrite for going to the hospital. Where else are they supposed to go?
Instead of being offended by her the Pharisee should have been filled with admiration for her. Not for her sin of course but for her courage. She obviously came uninvited because Pharisees don’t invite sinful women into their homes. And without permission she touches this Rabbi. In the eyes of the Pharisee the touch of this morally unclean woman would have made Jesus ceremonially unclean. Then in incredible humility she wets His feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. This is an astonishingly intimate act between two strangers, particularly in that era and culture. But there is nothing hypocritical going on here. This is a prodigal daughter coming home; a prodigal daughter being forgiven much and loving much.
The example of hypocrisy that we do have before us is that of St. Peter in the lesson from Galatians. St. Peter came to visit Antioch, which was St. Paul’s base of operation. The church in Antioch was mixed with both Gentile and Jewish believers in Christ and so when they took meals together St. Peter would sit with the Gentiles as well as the Jews. But then an ultra conservative faction arrived from Jerusalem. These were called “the circumcision faction” because while they were believers in Christ, they continued to keep the law of Moses which included circumcision and laws of purity. The laws of purity included what you could and could not eat and with whom.
St. Peter for fear of his reputation rejected the Gentiles and St. Paul says, “And the other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” St. Paul rightfully took great offense at this and publically rebuked St. Peter.
Was this the right thing to do? Yes it was for two reasons. First, because leaders incur a stricter judgment. The Scripture says that when a leader persists in sin he is to be rebuked in the presence of all so that the rest may stand in fear (I Tim 5:19,20). But secondly consider what St. Peter’s actions were conveying. By once again observing the purity laws St. Peter was in essence saying that he believed the he can be justified by the law. St. Paul objects, “if justification comes through the law then Christ died for nothing.” This is not a debate over using the 1979 verses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. We are talking here about the essence of the gospel and so St. Paul was not only right to defend it, as an Apostle he was required to do so.
So as we can see by St. Peter’s example, the criticism that there are hypocrites in the church is a valid one. The question before each of us then is how we go about making the church have one less.
The first thing that we can do to avoid hypocrisy is to avoid being a man pleaser. A man pleaser puts on different masks and goes along to get along and that is the very definition of hypocrisy. It is only natural to want to have people like you otherwise you turn into Ebenezer Scrooge. But we need to have clear limits on that desire.
In today’s world it is all about not offending someone as if giving offense somehow has turned into a capital crime. An article in the New York Times last March reported that Universities are now creating what they call “safe spaces.” These are places that students can go to recover when they feel threatened by ideas and beliefs that differ from theirs.
As Christians we should err on the side of love and respect but if you make it your goal to never offend anyone, especially today, then you will fail as a disciple of Christ and turn into a man pleaser. Jesus told us flat out that they will hate us because they hated Him and they hated Him because they were offended by the truth that He proclaimed.
We need to get past the fear of being offensive. It’s not like anything happens to someone when they are offended. They don’t wake up the next day with a terminal disease. I saw a great post on Facebook of young men hitting the beaches of Normandy on D Day and the caption was “young men of college age leaving their safe spaces.” Here is a reality check. If my faith offends you then prepare to be perpetually offended because I am not going to hide my light under a bushel and I will not be bullied into calling evil good. This is the stand we must make as Christians.
How do we get past being a man pleaser? We do so by focusing on being a God pleaser. In the previous chapter in Galatians, St. Paul put it this way. “For am I now seeking the approval of man or of God. Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
The woman in the Gospel story did not care if the Pharisee would be offended or if his guests would be offended, she only cared about what Jesus thought. She is our model.
Closely related to ridding ourselves of man pleasing is to rid ourselves of our reputations. It was concern for his reputation that had Peter act so inconsistently. He was concerned what the Jewish brethren would think of him if they saw him eating with the Gentiles and so he acted contrary to the Gospel.
But what we see in Jesus is a refreshing lack of concern for His reputation. When people opposed or rejected Him He did not say, “Do you have any idea who I was before I took on flesh and became a man?” Instead He humbled Himself and became a servant and sought people and loved people in ways that totally offended the religious leaders. We see this Pharisee saying to himself, “If this guy had any idea who it was that is touching him….” and instead of defending His reputation, He defended her. Then with no concern for what others might think of Him He forgives her sins and leaves the people at the table saying, “Who does this guy think that he is forgiving people’s sins?” It was being free of defending His reputation that allowed Jesus to do the right thing for this woman.
So how do we get beyond defending our reputations? St. Paul shows us in this lesson. He says, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is not longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and delivered Himself up for me.”
If we have been crucified with Christ then it means that we have died. We have several saints buried back in our columbarium. How many of them do you think are worried today about their reputations? So we get beyond defending our reputation by being dead to self.
But we need to add that we are also called to be united to Christ and live by faith in Him who loved us and delivered Himself up for us. As we die to self and as we grow in our union with Christ, our chief concern becomes His reputation, His glory, His kingdom and concerns for our own reputations fade away.
A third way that we avoid hypocrisy is to avoid legalism. We don’t face the same purity laws that St. Peter did but over time the Church has filled herself with rules that only serve to force people into hypocrisy.
A couple of years ago I was on vacation and several clergy from another denomination invited me to join them for lunch. At first I wasn’t going to go because I was on vacation and didn’t want to feel like I was on a busman’s holiday. I reconsidered but I stayed in vacation mode. I was unshaved, dressed in very casual clothes and when it came time to order I ordered a beer. When it was delivered the other clergy looked longingly at it and started talking about their favorite drinks. But they added that they only drink when they are out of town lest any of their parishioners see them. ??????????? Now I understand someone having a conviction that a Christian should not drink but I don’t understand their line of thinking. It’s not much of a conviction if it doesn’t apply when you are out of town. That is just a legalistic rule or perhaps more man pleasing.
But worse than making you act hypocritically, as we saw with St. Peter, legalism is an assault on the Gospel. To paraphrase St. Paul, if we think that rules will make us acceptable to God then Christ has died for nothing.
What makes legalism such a trap is that Christians often get into it for the best of intentions. They want to live lives that honor God. They want to walk in the right path and so they conclude,“ just tell me what the rules are and I will follow them.” But that is how you end up becoming like the circumcision faction that came to Antioch. Their intentions to be pleasing to God were good but as one author said of them, “by struggling to appropriate God’s power to change them, they are not resting in God’s power to save them.”
Let me repeat that quote;“by struggling to appropriate God’s power to change them, they are not resting in God’s power to save them.” I found that quote extremely convicting. I cannot tell you, over the course of my life, how much time I have wasted struggling to appropriate God’s power to change me rather than resting in His power to save me. And while I know that God can even work that mistake for my good, I would be beyond thrilled if I could just save one of you from wasting the time that I have it wasted in various forms of legalism. Trust me when I say that it is a more joyful life to rest in the power of God to save you.
Truth is, as long as we have this battle going on between the Spirit and our flesh we are going to have our hypocritical moments. But we don’t have to remain in that condition. St. Peter didn’t. He accepted St. Paul’s rebuke. In Acts 15 we read of a council that gathered to deal with this conflict between the circumcision faction and the Gospel of grace being preached by St. Paul. After much discussion it was St. Peter himself who rose and said these words. “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
St. Peter’s words and the Gospel of grace won the day. A potentially disastrous schism in the church was avoided. The church could have split into two and then faded into history. But grace triumphed. It is this Gospel of grace that invites all of us today to rest in the power of God to save us. All are welcome. Sinful women, judgmental Pharisees, Apostles who temporarily stray from the truth and even we hypocrites. The One who loved us and delivered Himself up for us will in no wise turn us away. Amen.