29 AUG 2021: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Deut 4:1-2, 6-8; James 1:17-18,21b-22, 27; MK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.
We have been wearing masks in places of worship for many years before the pandemic. For countless centuries, in fact.
The mask is called “hypocrisy.”
Jesus is very strong in his criticism of hypocrites in the Gospel today, and we know in our hearts similar strong feelings when we feel we are in the presence of a religious hypocrite, either a priest or a member of the laity.
There is a kind of religious hypocrisy that is comical and ridiculous but mostly harmless: religious theatre. Someone who is very dramatic in their piety and wants to make a show of everything, regardless of what the moment calls for, and especially when that drama is in contrast to the life they are living. This is mostly harmless but still hypocritical because an honest, heartfelt faith never calls for egoistical self-referencing. “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you,” James says today, “be doers of the word…care for widows and orphans…be unstained by the world.”
There is another kind of religious hypocrisy that is very damaging. It is when people of faith have some kind of power and they use it to establish a false superiority. They make their own superficial rules, and they use them to weaponize.
Just a few days ago, Pope Francis said that “hypocrisy in the church is particularly detestable.” The pope also said that hypocrites fundamentally do not know how to love. They live out of egoism and can not show their true hearts.
That is why the wisdom teaching of Jesus today is so important. He directs us back to our heart, back to our inner life, which is the source of everything, which is where all the action is, and where our spiritual work is to be done. If we listened intently in silence to our minds and hearts for only fifteen minutes, we would know there is plenty of work to be done, plenty of chaos to calm, before we truly reconcile our inner and outer lives. In faith, the heart teaches us that there is never a good reason to be a hypocrite.