Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,
‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’
Relate: I am not certain about this, but I am pretty sure that every single time someone receives the sharp end of Jesus’ tongue, the victim is a religious leader. I do know that almost every time the word “hypocrite” is used, Jesus is specifically speaking to the religious leaders and addressing them as such. There are a couple times where it has a generic use. For example, in Matthew 6 Jesus says, “Don’t give” and “Don’t pray” like the hypocrites do. They love to show off how religious they are. But this doesn’t necessarily mean he is specifically talking about the Pharisees. It could be anyone who showboats their religious acts. In the same way, he calls a hypocrite the person who says, “let me help you with the speck in your eye” while they are walking around with a log in their own. Pretty much all the rest of the 20 times the word is used, Jesus is very clearly speaking to or about the Pharisees.
In contrast, Jesus was accused of being a “friend of sinners.” They called him a glutton and a drunkard because he hung out so often with people everyone else thought of as gluttons and drunkards. When a former prostitute started weeping at his anointed feet, the super-religious host said, “He obviously has no idea who this woman is.” When we see Jesus speaking to the “real” sinners, it is pretty much always with love and compassion. His harsh words are only for those who thought they were doing everything right. It is about these people and their insistence that everyone conform to their version of religiosity that Jesus says in today’s reading, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce.”
React: How often are we doing the opposite? Because one person at church pretends to have it all together, others are less willing to open up about their own struggles and failures. But because they don’t either, the first person is reinforced in his own delusions of righteousness. It is a self-defeating continuous feedback loop causing all of us to become more and more of a hypocrite. The Greek word means “actor” and that is what we are all doing. Even worse, we pat ourselves on the back and save all of our harsh words for the ones who most desperately need and are reaching out for love and compassion. The very same people we save our sharpest criticism for are the ones that Jesus was accused of hanging out with. Not very many people in the world accuse the church of being a “friend of sinners” like they did Jesus. Instead, we get accused of being “hypocrites” like Jesus accused the religious people of his day. Even though the world doesn’t have the least clue what the word really means, far too often, their accusation is deserved. God, let it not be so in my life.
Help me to be real. Give me the courage and integrity to pull down the act that I all too often show people that they might think that I always have it all together. Help me even more to love. Let me be known as a friend of sinners. Let those who need You most feel safe to see You through me. Don’t let my “religious” scruples stand in the way of others coming face to face with You. Don’t let me be a hypocrite.
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To read previous years devotionals taken from February 23rd please click below: