“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.’”
— Jesus Christ, Mark 7:6
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense, make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”
— Jesus Christ, Matthew 23: 14-15
Did Jesus condemn anyone with more contempt than those he labeled as hypocrites? One of his most famous admonitions is, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” — another example of his condemnation of duplicity.
Of course, he reserved his greatest contempt for the Pharisees, the corrupt high priests, who preached chastity, morality, and humility, but who in actuality were thieves who cared mostly for their own well being instead of the poor, the widows, the children, and the faithful.
In Matthew, Chapter 23, Jesus repeatedly damns the Pharisees as hypocrites, fools, and liars. Considerable debate lingers as to what Christ meant by his condemnation — was it simply a “family feud” among Jews or a great schism that signaled the new way of the world? One thing is clear, however; Jesus was attacking the status quo — the hierarchy of the church — because of its commitment to the adornments of the temple rather than to the tenants of faith. “For you pay the tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith,” he said.
So the Pharisees, Jesus said, were the rich and the powerful and righteous who ignored the most important moral values that should guide everyone: the values of justice and mercy and faith. They were fools and foolers, and those who followed them were blinded by their own piety.
This sounds achingly familiar today. The complaints that the religious right has lost all sense of moral values — that it has a blind and foolish piety in its endorsement of torture, killing of innocent civilians in the name of finding a new proselyte, and ravaging of the Earth even as it is the great giver of life — are not new charges. And they are also true. Yet the real message of Christ was that hypocrisy will be condemned, and that those who practice it will face the perils of Hell.
In politics, hypocrisy is legal tender. One can find it spent in abundance on both sides. But it is a religious expression of hypocrisy — what outraged Jesus the most — that's found in people like the Pharisees of his day and the radical reactionaries of today. Their cloak of morality, and their ostentatious embrace of Jesus, are what is so hypocritical. They claim Jesus while supporting policies that hurt the poor, the widows, the orphans, the children, the veterans, the troops, the nation, the Earth — and yes, the gays and other outcasts — the lepers, if you will. At the same time they voted for a man who instituted a tax cut that most benefited the wealthiest 1 percent among us; a man who plunged the nation into staggering debt and forced cuts in programs that support poor children, highways, veterans, troop pay and support (and levy maintenance, by the way). They crow about morality, and piety and virtue, while they support a war based on false intelligence and at best, gross mistakes of judgment.
Why? It’s mostly because they condemn gays and abortion.
Of course, abortion is a difficult question, and one that legitimately divides people, but here is the key — the right, clothed in its garments of morality and chastity, claim that because of this one issue, it holds the right to moral sway of all issues. One hears many of them claim that those on the other side are more than wrong, they’re evil.
Satan is the great deceiver of mankind. Hypocrisy is the great deceiver of the individual. The religious right says the evil lies on the left, yet it is the right that is displaying many of the hypocrisies that Jesus warned against. If they believe what they say, they’d better be careful.
Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which do indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanliness.”
Could it be that the very hypocrites that Jesus warned against are in our midst?
Guy Reel is an assistant professor of mass communication at Winthrop University in South Carolina. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.