Showing posts with label #Hypocrisy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Hypocrisy. Show all posts

01 May 2024

Christian stewardship.

STEWARDSHIP 'st(j)u.ərd.ʃɪp noun. The job or duty of supervising or caretaking a person, property, or organization.
2. [adjective] Having to do with the role or condition of supervision or caretaking.
[Steward 'st(j)u.ərd noun; stewarding 'st(j)u.ərd.ɪŋ verb.]

Why on earth have I decided to tag the topic of stewardship with “Mammon”? Because way too often—in fact I would argue most of the time—whenever Christians talk about stewardship, we’re talking about managing our wealth… but we’re pretending we’re managing God’s wealth.

First time I heard about stewardship, I was a kid, learning about Adam and Eve and creation. Adam and Eve had been put in charge of the planet Earth. Says so in the bible.

Genesis 1.27-28 KJV
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

“Subdue it” (Hebrew כִבְשֻׁ֑הָ/khivsá literally means to tamp it down, but usually has the sense of conquering and subjugating. Humans are meant to take over our world, and make it do as we want.

But, my Sunday school teacher pointed out, not so we could just do as we please with it, and ruin it as if it’s a disposable commodity. Littering is bad! Polluting is bad! I know; your Sunday school teacher may not have ever taught such things. Mine did, and justified it by pointing to something the LORD told the Hebrews in the wilderness about the land he intended to give them.

Leviticus 25.23 KJV
The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.

It’s God’s land, and God’s world, she pointed out. We humans are just stewards of this world. We take care of it for him. At at some point we have to answer to God for how we did.

Other Evangelicals have profoundly different attitudes about creation care—and many don’t believe we do answer to God for it. Ever. He gave Earth to Adam and Eve; we’re descendants of Adam and Eve; so it’s our planet to do with as we see fit. And after Jesus returns he’s just gonna destroy the world and make New Earth anyway. Rv 21.1 So it’s okay if we trash the world, and make it uninhabitable and poisonous. We’re getting a brand-new one!

Anyway, that’s how I was introduced to the concept of stewardship. I no longer agree with that interpretation of it; I’ll get to that. But between that and Jesus’s parable about the Faithful and Stupid Stewards Lk 12.41-48 —one of whom watched out for his master, and the other who acted as if the master would never return—to my mind, stewardship had to do with responsibly doing as God wants during our time in this world.

Then, as a teenager, I was introduced to stewardship as it has to do with how Christians handle our money. And that’s where I encountered a buttload of Mammonism. Disguised as Christianity of course; disguised as biblical principles which’d make Christians wealthy, and justifications for all our covetous and stingy behavior: “We’re practicing good stewardship of God’s money. We’re doing it for him.”

Yeah right. If doing it for God were truly the case, we’d see way more good fruit in all this “stewardship.” But when it’s not—when it’s all just hypocrisy and Mammonism—we look like greedy, graceless people who have built a lot of Christian corporations and fancy buildings, but haven’t built any of God’s kingdom. Nothing that’ll last after Jesus personally takes over. Because we’ve prioritized money.

24 October 2023

Thoughts and prayers… and hypocrites.

Whenever disaster strikes—whether natural or manmade; usually manmade—one of the most common platitudes we hear thereafter is, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.”

Over the past 20 years, this expression has seen a backlash. Mainly because the people who regularly say it, tend to be politicians. Particularly politicians who are in a position to do something about the disaster: Send rescuers. Provide disaster relief. Provide shelter and food and water. Provide healthcare. Ban the sort of lax workplace practices which result in disaster, and jail the owners and executives of those workplaces for their oversight, especially if they knew disaster might be coming, but looked the other way. Ban the sort of dangerous weapons which, in the hands of a dangerous person, would cause calamity, and prohibit such people from ever touching such a weapon. In short, stop enabling evildoers.

But they don’t. They do nothing, or do something empty and meaningless. And by their actions, they demonstrate they’re not really thinking of disaster victims… and more than likely, not praying either. If they are praying, it’s something more like, “Lord, why should I be on the hook for this? Could you please confound my enemies?”

To be fair, some of the backlash comes from nontheists who are pretty sure prayer is bunk. It might make the petitioner feel good, ’cause now the buck’s been passed to God, so they need do nothing more. Or ’cause the petitioner thinks the prayer is the work, which is why they pray so fervently, and imagine themselves prayer warriors. But, figure the nontheists, they’re praying to no one; the invisible man in the sky isn’t real; it’s wasted time and effort.

Give you an example. Thanks to climate change, the United States is getting more and more extreme weather. Hotter days. Longer heat waves. Tornadoes and hurricanes in places where they previously didn’t happen; we had a hurricane pass over California, of all places, this summer. Crazy rainfall and floods where they previously didn’t happen. Rising oceans. Dying species.

But for various stupid reasons, many conservative Christians don’t believe in science, and refuse to believe the data about climate change. They have various harebrained theories about why extreme weather really happens, but in general, they think it’s a passing fluke; it’s nothing politicians intend to make longterm plans about. And nothing they can mitigate, or stop, or reverse, by fighting pollution; plus polluters are their biggest donors. But for the most part they deny it’s happening at all. And certainly won’t pass laws to help those who are suffering from it; namely the poor, who can’t afford to recover from it.

So what good are those politicians’ thoughts and prayers? Functionally they’re the very same as when the apostle James objected to “faith” which lacked works:

James 2.14-17 NRSVue
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Surely that faith cannot save, can it? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Regularly, our “thoughts and prayers” are no different from wishing the needy well, but doing absolutely nothing to make ’em less needy. Sometimes it’s out of our own laziness and apathy; sometimes our own ill will.

And the needy aren’t dense. They see the godlessness of it. They’re calling us on it. Rightly so. If our thoughts and prayers do nothing, our faith is dead, our religion is hypocrisy, and our God is a joke.

You do realize making our God out to be a joke is blasphemy, right? So don’t do that!

30 May 2023

Fake Christians.

I used to write about fake Christians a lot.

Probably too much, which is why I went cold turkey for a few years. It was getting a little graceless of me. I mean, based on my criteria, 15-year-old me would’ve been a fake Christian. And I wasn’t! Yeah, there was a lot of hypocrisy in my life. But I was legitimately Christian. A lousy one, but an authentic one.

So lemme ’splain what I mean by fake Christian: Somebody who claims to be Christian, or gets mixed up in Christian activities or the Christian subculture. But knowingly, deliberately, isn’t.

  • Like a politician who goes to church to win votes, or meets with pastors to get their approval. But in private he thinks Christians are easily-fooled idiots. After all, he just fooled ’em.
  • Like a business owner who puts a Jesus fish on her business cards to get Christians as customers. But she never goes to church. Privately, she has a lot of contempt for those who do.
  • Like a husband who goes to church with his family because he approves of the moral guidance religion can provide. But he never follows its guidance. Doesn’t think he needs to; he’s good! And would think you’re a fool if you ever seriously suggested it to him.
  • Like a woman who wants her neighbors to think she’s a good Christian woman, because they appear to be good Christian women, and she’d like to fit in, and not be rejected as the neighborhood heathen.
  • Like a man who’s offended because his coworker is living with his girlfriend “in sin.” Who’s offended when anyone’s gay or lesbian or bisexual, because “that’s a sin.” Who’s offended when someone figures they're nonbinary or trans, because “that’s a sin” too. But when anyone calls him out on his regular practice of sleeping with skanks every weekend, suddenly “what I do in my private time is none of your f---ing business, and who are you to judge me?”

Fake Christians aren’t interested in Jesus. They’re only interested in the fringe benefits of Christianity. And in predominantly Christian countries and communities, there are plenty of benefits! You fit right in.

  • “Fellow” Christians will automatically accept you!—’cause even though we Christinas are supposed to love everyone, loads of us suck at it.
  • “Fellow” Christians will unquestioningly endorse you!—’cause even though we’re supposed to test everything, loads of us suck at it.
  • “Fellow” Christians will often show you abundant grace!—’cause even though we’re supposed to show grace to everyone, loads of us suck at it. And don’t really extend grace to our own as much as we should.
  • Plus you can be as bigoted as you like, but say it’s really because you’re offended by “sin.”

If you're a con artist of any level, we Christians are easy pickings. Too easy.

08 September 2021

Keep (most of) your prayers private.

Matthew 6.5-6.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught,

Matthew 6.5-6 KJV
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Which is why we don’t see the streets of our nation lined with Christians, their arms raised and heads to the sky, praying as loud as possible so as to let everyone know we’re devout, and that we’re praying for our land.

Well… we don’t usually see this. Although I remember this one trip I made to Washington D.C. where we saw it all the time. I was chaperoning some kids on a civics tour, where we went to the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian, and all sorts of public buildings. And wouldn’t you know it: In every last one of these places, there were Christian groups, praying good ’n loud for the United States. If you didn’t know they were Christian by their behavior, you’d definitely know it by their very public prayers.

Various Christian organizations also put together days of prayer, or prayer breakfasts, or get high schoolers to gather at the flagpole to pray, or get concerned citizens to show up at all the city halls to pray. Sometimes they’re protesting something; sometimes they’re in favor of something; either way they pray. Publicly. Loudly. For all to see and hear.

There’s the occasional athlete who takes a knee every time he scores a goal. And there are the folks who pitch a fit because public schoolteachers can’t lead the kids in prayer. As someone who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s, I should point out this is more of a blessing than you realize: I’d’ve been exposed to all sorts of weird pagan prayers had my teachers been required to lead prayer time. It’s not at all like the Bible Belt, where the pagans have way more practice at pretending to be Christian.

Back in 2008, during a major economic recession, Texas prophet Cindy Jacobs led a prayer team to New York City to lead a Day of Prayer for the World’s Economies. They were gonna pray for the financial institutions who caused suffered from the recession, and pray for God to take ’em over. Which is fine, but here’s what happened.

I recall the Hebrews got in big trouble for doing something like this. Wonkette

On Wall Street there’s a statue of a bull, meant to represent an active, “bullish” economy. The prayer team chose to lay their hands upon it and pray. My very first thought upon seeing this photo: “Good Lord, they’re praying over a golden calf. Um… didn’t the LORD smite the Hebrews for that?” Ex 32.35

Okay, they meant well. But the prayer team didn’t bother to think about how their actions looked—or didn’t care, figuring their good intentions outweighed how foolish they looked. ’Cause pagans have seen The Ten Commandments, and know that golden calf story. And sure had a lot of fun with it.

02 December 2020

Hypocrisy versus inconsistency.

HYPOCRISY hə'pɑk.rə.si noun Pretense: Practice of claiming beliefs or moral standards which one doesn’t truly have.
2. Inconsistency: Practice of claiming beliefs or moral standards, but one’s own behavior demonstrates otherwise.
[Hypocrite 'hɪp.ə.krɪt noun, hypocritical hɪp.ə'krɪd.ə.kəl adjective.]

I reposted the definition from my original article on hypocrisy because I need to remind you there are two popular definitions of the word: Pretense and inconsistency. When Christians talk about hypocrisy, we usually mean pretense: Someone’s pretending to be what they’re not. When everybody else talks about it (and many Christians are included in this group), they mean inconsistency: A person says one thing, but does another.

And yeah, some of this idea is found in the gospels. Right before Jesus went on a rant about Pharisee misbehavior, he pointed out how inconsistent they were.

Matthew 23.1-4 NLT
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.”

Yet as they’re inflicting Pharisee customs on the population, and enforcing it as if God himself commanded it, everything they do is for show. Mt 23.5 They pretend to be holy, yet sin just as much as anyone.

So yeah, this behavior is galling. Notice how often kids are quick to make a fuss about it. At one time or another every little kid has objected, “How come you get to stay up till midnight, but I have to go to bed at 8:30?” And since we’re never gonna tell them, “So I can get three hours of uninterrupted peace for once,” usually our excuse will be some rubbish about how they need more sleep than adults do. (Yeah they do, but not that much. Adults need way more sleep than we get!) But the bottom line is thIs: There’s an inconsistency in the rules, which favor the ones who make the rules. That’s not right.

And not just because the LORD said so—

Leviticus 19.15 NLT
“Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly.”

—but because it violates the human tendency towards reciprocity and karma. What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander. Equal justice under law. The idea’s pretty widely taught, and well-embedded in our institutions… although let’s be honest: Tons of Pharisee-style loopholes for the rich and powerful are also well-embedded in our institutions.

These inconsistencies are wrong. People are right to say so. People are pretend they’re not there, or they’re no longer there, or they’re not as bad as all that, or who blind themselves to how they benefit from these inconsistencies: Some of them are willfully evil, and some are naïvely so. But it’s unjust, and we Christians need to fight it.

Now, is it hypocrisy? Not if we’re using Jesus’s definition, no. Hypocrisy means pretending to be what you’re not. True, people frequently use hypocrisy to defend inconsistency (“What do you mean, that law’s unjust? I haven’t suffered from it”) but they’re still really two different things. Both wrong, but still.

19 November 2020

Confession: Breaking the chains of our secret sins.

CONFESS kən'fɛs verb. Admit or state one’s failings or sins to another [trustworthy] person.
2. Admit or state what one believes.
[Confession kən'fɛs.ʃən noun, confessor kən'fɛs.sər noun.]

The way to defeat hypocrisy, plain and simple, is authenticity. We’re not perfect—none but Jesus is—and we need to say so. And in many cases need to say more than just the generic “I’m a sinner,” with no further details: We need to give some of those details. We need to tell on ourselves. We need to confess.

The practice of confession—heck, the very idea of confession—is controversial to a lot of Christians. ’Cause we don’t wanna! And I’m not even talking about people with deep dark secrets. Plenty of folks have little bitty secrets—stuff everybody kinda knows already, or can figure out easily—but the very idea of publicly admitting to such things, they find far too humiliating.

Fr’instance. Back in college, in one of our men’s bible studies, our group leader was talking about things every man does, and used masturbation as an example. And one guy in our group immediately objected: He never did such a thing. Never once. Not ever. Wouldn’t even countenance the notion he did such a thing.

“Oh come on,” was every other guy’s response.

He persisted. His face was turning mighty red, and his arguments were getting less and less plausible, but he persisted. He would never, he claimed. Never ever ever.

But he wasn’t fooling anyone, and lots of hypocrites are the very same way when it comes to our “secret” sins: They’re not as secret as we imagine. We’re fooling no one but ourselves.

These are the folks who insist confession isn’t in the bible. That the only person we’re to confess sin to, is God. Certainly not to a priest-confessor; certainly not to fellow Christians; never to air our dirty laundry, whether it be in public or private.

And of course it’s in the bible. What, do I have to quote it for you? Ugh, fine.

James 5.16 NKJV
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

I quoted the New King James ’cause it uses the word from the Textus Receptus, παραπτώματα/paraptómata, “missteps” or “trespasses.” Kinda like the Lord’s Prayer, it deals with everything we might’ve done wrong, and not just sins. Though the original Greek of James is more likely just ἁμαρτίας/amartías, “sins,” an authentic, transparent life means we oughta confess far more than just sins. We oughta be open books.

Hypocrites don’t wanna be open books, so they insist the folks in the bible never publicly did any such thing—

Acts 19.17-18 NKJV
17 This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. 18 And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.

—that confession is just a Catholic thing, and even that it’s wrong to share such things with people. Besides, what business do we have telling people they’re forgiven, or telling ’em to go in peace?

John 20.22-23 KWL
22 And when [Jesus] had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But in fact whenever we publicly or semi-publicly confess, God forgives us. 1Jn 1.9 When Christians say, “Go in peace; you’re forgiven,” all we’re really doing is telling them God forgave ’em already. But if you wanna argue, “No, I can forgive anybody’s sins,” well… Jesus kinda backs you up in this scripture.

The reality is, people refuse to confess, and reject the very idea of confession, because we really don’t care to stop sinning. But we wanna look like we have. We’re not fooling God, but we are trying to fool our fellow Christians, and look devout and righteous when we’re no better than they. Yep, it’s total hypocrisy: We’re dirty liars. And since God calls us sinners, but we’re pretending to not be, we’re making it look like God’s the dirty liar. 1Jn 1.8 That ain’t good.

Now that we belong to Jesus, we’re meant to quit sin. Ro 6.11-12 When we hide our sins, disguise the chains sin still has on us, and pretend we’re living like Christians… we remain the same old slaves to sin we always were. It’s as if we never had turned to Jesus. It’s like an alcoholic who never quit drinking because he’s not going to any bloody A.A. meeting. Or the addict who pretends she went to rehab, and hopes nobody notices she’s still hooked. Same fraud; different vice.

So we rail against confession. If nobody knows about our sins, and how often we commit ’em—if the only person we tell these things to is the Holy Spirit, and we assume he’d never tell on us (biblical evidence to the contrary Ac 5.1-11), we can go right on committing ’em. Secretly. Privately. Hypocritically.

18 November 2020

Hypocrisy in leadership: It can get really bad, really fast.

Most Christian leaders know better than to let hypocrisy grow among their leadership structure. It’s poison. It’s how scandals start, ruin churches, drive people to quit Jesus (or at least give ’em an excuse), and give all of Christianity a lousy reputation. So they take great care to keep hypocrites from ever being put in charge.

Others take no such care, and are full of hypocrites.

I used to single out particular churches, with particular leadership structures, for being particularly hypocritical. And yeah, it’s much easier for phonies to hide in churches with few to no accountability structures. (Or even with tremendous accountability structures, like the Roman Catholic Church… but the catch is their structure only offers forgiveness, not consequence, and that’s why so many evil leaders can get away with what they do.) It’s almost a given you’re gonna find hypocrites in anti-denominational churches: They want no oversight, no one to tell them to behave. But it’s hardly just the antidenominational folks. Any church can undermine or ignore all their safeguards.

So we gotta keep our eyes open! Watch for fruit. Mt 7.15-20 Good fruit and bad.

And it’s hardly just the leadership’s duty to watch out for hypocrisy. Every Christian needs to watch out for hypocrisy among our leaders. If they’re acting fake, take ’em aside privately, and call them on it! “You said such-and-so happened, but I know it actually didn’t,” or “You say you’ve never committed such a sin, but I know different,” or anything else which feels fraudulent. Yeah they’re gonna balk at the correction. Too many people think of accountability as judgment, and they don’t wanna be judged! But Christian leaders know (or should know) that judgment is part of the job. As is accountability.

17 November 2020


Popular culture, especially popular Christian culture, uses the word Pharisee as a synonym for legalist.

That’s what we presume the Pharisees’ problem was: They overdid it on God’s commands. They were so careful to follow every single one of them perfectly (and in so doing, earn salvation), they created all these extra doctrines and traditions as kind of a hedge around the Law. Supposedly they spent so much time fretting about the extra stuff, they’d never get around to breaking the Law.

Yeah, that’s not why Pharisees had the doctrines and customs. Wasn’t what they were doing at all.

If you want to know what the Pharisees were about, you gotta read the Mishna, a compilaton of what Pharisees were teaching as of the early second century. (Which of course includes what they taught in the early first century, i.e. Jesus’s day.) The Mishna is the core of the Talmud, one of the two main books of present-day Judaism. (The other’s the Tanakh, which we call the Old Testament.) And in it, you’ll discover a lot of these customs and rules… are actually loopholes.

No foolin’. The rabbis of the Mishna were of two minds: One group wanted to follow the Law and teachings of the bible, namely the spirit of the bible—exactly like Jesus wants us to study the bible. And the other group wanted to figure out how to technically follow the LORD’s commands… but not really. They wanted to follow them to the barest minimum. Or, if possible, not follow ’em at all.

When Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, that’s the group he meant. They’ll sit in the teachers’ seats in synagogue and read the bible to the audience, and tell ’em to follow it, and meanwhile they themselves don’t. At all.

Matthew 23.1-7 NLT
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.
5 “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. 6 And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.‘ “

In the gospels, the problem with Pharisees wasn’t legalism. In Acts and Paul’s writings it was: The Pharisees insisted to the ancient Christians one has to follow the Law before one could be saved. (As if the Hebrews of the Exodus met that standard when the LORD saved ’em from Egypt!)

Legalism’s a valid problem, and there was a legalist faction among the Pharisees. Same as we Christians likewise have our legalists and libertines. Every religion has ’em!

But the bigger, more pervasive problem with Pharisees was their loopholes. They had tons.

Take this Mishnaic ruling. The topic is ritual sacrifices. Jesus’s death rendered them moot, so we Christians no longer sacrifice animals and grain to anything but our stomachs; we’re not familiar with biblical procedure. Well, some you burned entirely on the altar, and some you ate with the priest and your family. The question came up whether a worshiper could just burn part of an animal, and have that count, then eat the rest. It’s like the half-caff version of a sin offering.

The useful thing about the Mishna is it regularly gives both sides: The strict tulings and the loose ones. In this case it starts with the strict ruling… then what Rabbi Yoseh let his synagogue get away with.

Temurah 1.3 KWL
Don’t substitute a leg for a fetus, nor fetuses for limbs.
Don’t substitute a leg nor fetus for a whole animal, nor whole animals for them.
Yet R. Yoseh says a leg can be substituted for a whole animal—but not whole animals for legs.
R. Yoseh says, “Isn’t it the rule for sacred animals
that when one says, ‘This leg is for burnt offering,’ the whole animal is a burnt offering?
Likewise if one says, ‘This leg instead of that leg,’ all of it is a substitution in its place.”

This is why Jesus called ’em hypocrites. They claimed to be following the Law as best they could, to be the most righteous people on earth. They claimed they were looking for ways to follow God better, more devoutly, in order to grow closer to him. Like Nicodemus; like Paul, who overzealously went the wrong way till Jesus redirected him the right way. But the reality is they were looking for ways to make the Law convenient. Less duty. Less charity. Less obedience… but they could point to their bare-minimum efforts and claim, “But I am obedient. I’m doing as my rabbis taught.”

Looks like religion; actually is irreligion. So it’s hypocrisy.

And of course we Christians do the very same thing. We likewise look for loopholes in the bible, in God’s laws, in Jesus’s instructions, in the apostles’ teachings. We’re pretty sure we found plenty: Huge swaths of the bible, we claim, don’t apply to us. The Old Testament doesn’t count ’cause we’re under the New Testament. Or we’re in a different dispensation; we’re under grace not Law. We have freedom in Christ and following any guidelines is legalism and slavery. Whatever excuse helps us get out of our obligation to be good and faithful servants of our Master, and be good as God defines goodness.

16 November 2020

Hypocrites. They’re everywhere.

HYPOCRISY hə'pɑk.rə.si noun Pretense: Practice of claiming beliefs or moral standards which one doesn’t truly have.
2. Inconsistency: Practice of claiming beliefs or moral standards, but one’s own behavior demonstrates otherwise.
[Hypocrite 'hɪp.ə.krɪt noun, hypocritical hɪp.ə'krɪd.ə.kəl adjective.]

The Greek word ὑπόκρισις/ypókrisis literally means “over [the] face.” In the ancient Greek religion, whenever someone claimed they spoke for the gods, they’d put on a bit of a show. When a man claimed Zeus spoke through him, he’d assume a deep voice, exaggerated gestures, and perform a sorta impersonation of Zeus. (Since we’re talking about fake gods, it was totally an act.)

Comic and tragic masks. Wikimedia

This “prophetic” acting evolved into Greek drama. Certain “gifted” poets, whom the Greeks believed had some divinely-inspired prophetic ability, would have actors memorize their “revelations” and present them to audiences. So the audience would know who was playing whom, actors wore masks. Masks might have exaggerated features, ’cause the actors weren’t always good at their jobs. You know those happy and sad masks, associated with drama and the theater? (Don’t worry; I included a picture.) Anyway, ypókrisis turned into the Greek word for “actor.”

There’s nothing wrong with acting… so long that people know it’s all an act. When they don’t, it’s fraud.

So when Jesus borrowed the word ypókrisis to describe Pharisees,, he meant they were acting, but hiding it; therefore fraud. And Jesus isn’t happy about the fraud. Pisses him off more than anything.

Matthew 23.1-7 NLT
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.
5 “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. 6 And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ ”

It’s a good idea for us Christians to occasionally swap the word “Pharisee” with “Christian” and see whether it still fits. Annoyingly, it often does.

14 September 2020

The street-corner show-off.

Matthew 6.5-6.

Throughout history people have prayed publicly for various reasons. Some noble, some not.

And a regular problem throughout history has been the person who gets up and prays publicly, not because they legitimately wanna talk with God, or call to him for help. It’s because they wanna be seen praying. They wanna look religious. Usually so they can look more religious than they actually are. In other words hypocrisy.

Nothing annoys Jesus like hypocrisy, which is why he tries to discourage his followers from doing this. Although you know some of us do this anyway.

Matthew 6.5-6 KWL
5 “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites who enjoy standing in synagogues and major intersections,
praying so they might be seen by the people. Amen! I promise you all, they got their credit.
6 When you pray, go into your most private room with the door closed.
Pray to your Father in private. Your Father, who sees what’s private, will credit you.”

Standing was how the ancients prayed. They didn’t kneel, bow their heads, and fold their hands; that practice arose in the middle ages ’cause it’s how European kings wanted to be approached, and since Jesus is King it seems appropriate. But the ancients stood, looked to the sky (where they imagined God is) raised their hands to get his attention, and spoke with him. This posture made it really obvious someone was praying. Don’t need to get loud; just assume the position.

And Jesus notes the folks who prayed in really public places. Like synagogue. Which is not a Jewish church; it’s a Pharisee school, where you went to ask rabbis questions. Prayer times, before and after and during the lesson, would be short. But people would stand right outside the building and make a public display of prayer, “getting right with God” before going in. Or similarly praying this way after the lesson, ostensibly to thank God for the wisdom they just got… or maybe to ask him to straighten out some wayward rabbi. Whatever; the point was they were making it nice ’n obvious they talked with God a lot.

“Major intersections” is how I translate ταῖς γωνίαις τῶν πλατειῶν/tes yoníës ton plateión, “the corners of the wide streets,” namely the avenues where there was lots of room between buildings for people to shop, interact, people-watch, and otherwise hang out. Street corners were obviously where people were coming in from other streets—so the busy parts, busier than our own major intersections.

In both cases people were on their way someplace, and wouldn’t have had the time, nor spent the time, listening to this petitioner with his hands in the air. That wasn’t the point anyway. They didn’t care about being heard. Not even by God. They wanted to be seen.

The way we pray nowadays, doesn’t assume the ancient posture. Usually it’s heads bowed, eyes closed. Sometimes hands get raised, if the folks in the group have any Pentecostal influences in their background. But generally we’re not as noticeable when we pray. Unless we get loud… or unless there are a lot of us, like when a bunch of people pray in front of public buildings or around a flagpole.

But in those places, same as with the people Jesus critiqued, the point was to be seen and noticed by other people. Not so much God. And that’s what Jesus objects to.

01 July 2019

The yeast of hypocrisy.

Mark 8.14-21, Matthew 16.5-12, Luke 12.1.

After the most recent encounter Jesus had with Pharisees—namely where they wanted an End Times sign from him, not because they wanted proof Jesus is Messiah, but so they could shred his “sign” as bogus—Jesus decided to remind his students what sort of people they were dealing with. Not that all Pharisees were this way… hence his choice of metaphor.

Mark 8.14-15 KWL
14 The students forgot to take bread,
and they hadn’t one roll with them in the boat.
15 Jesus instructed them, saying “Listen. Watch out for the Pharisees’ yeast and Herod’s yeast.”
Matthew 16.5-6 KWL
5 Jesus’s students, coming to the far side of the lake,
forgot to bring bread.
6 Jesus told them, “Listen and pay attention to the Pharisees and Sadducees’ yeast.”
Luke 12.1 KWL
During a gathering of a crowd of ten thousands—
who were trampling one another—Jesus first began to tell his students,
“Watch out for yeast among yourselves—
which is Pharisee-style hypocrisy.”

Luke, which has this story take place after Jesus had just critiqued several Pharisee behaviors he identified as hypocrisy, straight-up interprets his own metaphor. He wants no confusion. Because in Mark and Matthew there was a lot of confusion: Jesus’s students were fixated on the fact they didn’t bring any bread with them.

As if Jesus was concerned in the slightest about a bread shortage. As he immediately pointed out.

Mark 8.16-21 KWL
16 They talked among themselves about not having bread.
17 Knowing this, Jesus told them, “Why are you talking about not having bread?
You don’t yet think nor understand; you have hardened hearts.
18 You have unseeing eyes and have unlistening ears, and don’t remember:
19 When I broke the five rolls for 5,000, how many full leftover-baskets did you gather?”
The students said, “Twelve.”
20 “And when I broke seven for 4,000, how many full leftover-baskets did you gather?”
The students said, “Seven.”
21 Jesus told them, “How do you not yet understand?”
Matthew 16.7-12 KWL
7 They talked among themselves, saying this: “We didn’t take bread.”
8 Knowing this, Jesus said, “Why are you little-faiths talking among yourselves about not having bread?
9 You don’t think nor remember the five rolls for 5,000 and how many baskets you gathered?
10 Nor the seven rolls for 4,000 and how many baskets you gathered?
11 How do you not think?—because I’m not talking to you about bread!
Pay attention to the Pharisees and Sadducees’ yeast.”
12 Then the students realized Jesus wasn’t saying to pay attention to bread yeast,
but the teaching of Pharisees and Sadducees.

It’s an all-too-common human problem: We get so fixated on immediate concerns, we miss the bigger, eternal point.

And that’s still true of Christians who read this passage, get some really funny ideas about yeast, and again miss Jesus’s entire point. And wind up misinterpreting other parts of the bible too.