What is a hypocrite? Jesus uses the term seventeen times in the gospels when speaking to very religiously-minded people. As many of you probably know, the Greek word comes from the Greek theater and has to do with “playing a part.” Specifically, ????????? (hypokrites), referred to the masks stage actors used in Greek theater to play a role. Today, the term has come to mean, “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs, to which one’s own behavior does not conform.” While I appreciate the definition, I am afraid it protects us from the full force of the word as Jesus intended. Let me explain by using a tired but familiar joke that is told in the south. It goes like this:
Why do you always take two or more Baptists with you fishing and never only one?
If you only take one, he’ll drink all your beer. If you take two or more, you will have the beer all to yourself.
What do this joke, Jesus, and Greek theater have in common? All of them illustrate masking ourselves in order to get what we want. Jesus alone is calling us to abandon our fruitless masking by finding our identity in Him. The idea that hypocrisy is more about being different people different places is more offensive because it speaks to what we do all the time. What Jesus wants us to understand is that because of what he has done for His people on the cross, we can be free to be who we are “in Christ.” We no longer need to attempt to impress co-workers, neighbors, friends, family or even our spouse. The gospel frees us to be the person God has made us to be as we are conformed more and more into the image of Christ.
The problem is that many people’s lives are marked by the fear of being found out. We fear not having the right mask on at the right time. We have one mask at work, one mask out at night, one mask with church friends, one mask with college friends, one mask with family, and on and on it goes. As a result, we are exhausted, we are weary and we are afraid. Living as a hypocrite is as exhausting as playing eight roles in the school play. You must remember which lines to say when and in the right role.
Unfortunately, this way of living is pervasive in our community and the church. But it has no place in the Gospel. If you are not a Christian, this is the great offer of the gospel. The need you feel to mask yourself is true because you and I are corrupted by sin. By giving all those masks to Jesus and being united to Him we are liberated from the fear of being found out. We move from wearing a mask to receiving a robe, the righteous robe of Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death.
If you are a professing Christian and find yourself having masks in your closet, Jesus soberly says, “you honor me with your lips, but your heart is far from me.” (Mark 7:6) What is keeping your heart far from Him? Is your mask bringing you the attention you desire, the affirmation you hunger for, the accolades you long for? Or is it leading you to exhaustion? Is it leading to despair? Depression? See, this is where the gospel thinks more highly of you than you think of yourself. The Gospel comes to us with the promise of liberating us from masking our identity. Jesus says, I have come to take all those masks away and give you back the beautiful face I created for you. Go out into the world without any masks! Be who I created you to be.
Ed Dunnington is the Senior Pastor at Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Roanoke. Visit their website at www.ctkroanoke.org.
* – Column name taken from Luke 15:25-32