Jesus’ woes are not uttered primarily in the face of sins such as theft, debauchery, or murder, about which we are so horrified—often hypocritically. His woes are directed precisely against hypocrisy, a form of soul pollution to which we often relate, unconsciously or not, laughing or smiling knowingly.
Hypocrisy is, essentially, a human attempt to divert attention from the truth by creating a lead, a scenario, with the intention of suggesting and convincing others of something completely different. It is obvious that, in such cases, the knowledge of the truth as it is in Christ is undesirable, and therefore the subject makes every effort to divert attention from it and to replace the truth with what they consider to be more profitable.
Hypocrisy is one of the most devastating forms of evil. Jesus seems frightened when dealing with this offence of the spirit, because He knows something that we do not know or refuse to believe. What at first is just a virus evetually becomes a disease of the system. From politics and economics to religion, hypocrisy manifests itself in thousands of forms. From the child who is learning to take their first steps to the old man carrying his burden of years, from the street vendor to the judge and the one who prays to “God,” this disease wreaks havoc. Ellen White rightly wrote: “Open apostasy would not be more offensive to God than hypocrisy and mere formal worship.”
Hypocrisy was born simultaneously with sin and was identified with it from the very beginning: How else would Lucifer have convinced the great army of angels who left heaven and who fell without being able to be “brought back to repentance”? When God asks him what he did, Adam points to the one who offered him a bite of the forbidden fruit. When He asks the woman what she did, she points to the one who tempted her. He does not ask the snake anything, because the snake lies whenever it speaks, and God, unlike us, does not give such a thing any opportunity to speak.
“Hate what is evil”
What can be the devastating effect of pretence? First, it deeply and completely affects the nature of the one who lives and practices it. The human mind and spirit, once molded into this form, never return to their original form of innocence. Something changes and then the human soul retains the shape of this deformation. In the event that, through repentance or rebirth, the human no longer exercises hypocrisy, they will still have to bear this evil presence in their heart and face this tendency all their life. Jesus calls this presence “a little yeast [that] leavens the whole batch of dough.”
We are rarely truly aware of the real long-term consequences of our actions or even of our thoughts, because we rarely see our actions in the light that Truth emanates. The thought, the word, or the deed are a seed. Last week, on my way home, I saw a child in the Cincinnati airport with another child in her arms. I was looking at the poor young girl and thinking: “You see, she didn’t realise that it wasn’t about ‘love’, but about a decision whose consequences would follow her all her life. Her childish spirit is waiting every day for things to return to normal, for her to be able to resume her natural course of childhood and innocence, and to recover the smile of freedom…not being aware of the fact that the present state is determined to persist and that she will never return to the initial state.”
HYPOCRISY IS CONTAGIOUS AND AGGRESSIVE IN ITS HYPNOTIC POWER. WHETHER YOU SUFFER FROM HYPOCRISY, HATE IT, FIGHT AGAINST IT, ARE CONCERNED ABOUT IT, OR JUST LOOK AT IT FROM THE OUTSIDE, YOU ARE EXPOSED TO THE DANGER OF BECOMING INFECTED. HUMANS TEND TO BECOME WHAT THEY REVERE, WHETHER GOOD OR BAD: “BUT WATCH YOURSELVES, OR YOU ALSO MAY BE TEMPTED.”
In our blindness, we sow the seed and then wash our hands like Pilate did. We believe that what we have thought, spoken, or done goes down the drain with the washing of our hands. Nothing could be further from the truth! The sown seed grows “whether we are awake or asleep.” This law, of sowing and reaping, operates both in the case of good and in the case of evil. The seed, regardless of its nature and variety, grows, “first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.” We fix our eyes on what we intend or want to happen but we don’t consider something much more dramatic: what is happening to our own being. Hypocrisy, which we use instead of truth to put things in what we think is a better light, becomes a boomerang that comes back with a vengeance against us. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you,” says the Bible. Nevertheless, we blame God when we do not reap anything other than what we have sown or because we are measured with the measure we ourselves used. Shouldn’t we rather praise God for enlightening our minds and revealing to us this truth of sowing and reaping, a truth hidden from the eyes of many?
Hypocrisy: a biblical illustration
In no other field is hypocrisy “more hypocritical” than in the religious field. One of the most elitist parties of Judaism, Pharisaism, was especially marked by this. It went so far that the word “Pharisee” became synonymous with “hypocrite.” Pharisaism was born as a reaction against hypocrisy, but along the way it became like the evil it focused on. Very rarely will a human discourse against hypocrisy not become itself a form of hypocrisy.
What I am about to mention is precisely one of those rare occasions when an affirmed principle is applied to the letter and lived by its promoters. At a certain point in the life of the church of the first century, a common meal was organised, in which the holy apostles Peter and Paul also participated. Unimaginable and unbelievable: the Jews ate at the table with the Gentiles. “The end cannot be far,” thought some, although what was happening simply represented the truth of the words: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Suddenly, some brothers “of Jacob” appeared who obviously did not believe in the aforementioned. As one who feared and wanted to please them, Peter jumped up from the table, quickly wiped his mouth, and pretended to drink water. This unexpected appearance of the brothers tore the mask from the saint’s face and exposed him to the public while wearing nothing but “Adam’s shirt.” Peter had fallen into the snare of hypocrisy.
When did Peter pretend? When he was eating or when he pretended to drink water? Some say he pretended when he was eating, others when he pretended he only drank water. The words of Isaiah were also written for him: “The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught” Peter had listened to Jesus’s woes, and yet he had ended up as one of those against whom these woes had been uttered. Peter’s problem was not that he was pretending, but that he was a pretender. A pretender, whether they eat or drink water or do anything else, they pretend. Peter was not a pretender because he was pretending, but he was pretending because he was a pretender. He did not need a change of behaviour, but a change of nature. “How can you who are evil say anything good?” The problem is the tree, not the fruit. “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad.”
I think of Barnabas, as he looked at Peter. There was no way he was going to agree with his pretence. Perhaps he was even horrified when he saw that the apostle’s joy in the Lord was nothing more than paint that deceptively hid the rust. Barnabas had lost sight of something, namely that humans become like the evil they revere. Without realising it, Paul writes, “even Barnabas was led astray.” So quickly he too had become like the evil he disapproved of. Did Peter, who had turned three thousand people to God with a single sermon, know that by another “sermon” he had caused his brother Barnabas and the other Jews to follow Satan, the god of hypocrisy, of falsehood, and of pretence? Did he know that his gesture was a seed sown in many hearts for many generations of people?
The hypocrite mocks, condemns, or despises the one in front of them, but it seems that the sadism of their hypocrisy is only satisfied when, like cancer, it affects and knocks down even the watchful soul. Perhaps this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Evil has the ability to reproduce inside the one caught in its snare and make them seven times worse.
“Cling to what is good”
If this is the truth about hypocrisy, then I cannot overlook the fact that I was born and move in a world subjugated by this scourge. From the baby in the cradle who cries because they have a wish, to politics, the economy, or the pulpit, hypocrisy lives in “all the things that are done under the sun.” If, indeed, I have no way to avoid the impact of the false from the outside world, because it resonates within my being, then I can only cry: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me” from this river within and without me? Who? Who can do something when “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”? Who will help us when “there is no one who does good, not even one”, not even Saint Peter or Barnabas? But while there is none such, none at all, yet He is One of whom it may be said that “nor was any deceit in his mouth.”
The Book of Proverbs strongly warns against associating with negative elements and strongly recommends association with wise and valuable people. The danger and, at the same time, the grace consists in getting used to the “ways” of the other—bad and good, respectively. What seems repulsive at first becomes acceptable and then desirable over time. That’s why Jesus emphasised: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Jesus said this because if the soul is infected with this disgusting disease, everything else in life is affected as well and compromised. David understood that his sin was not, in fact, adultery and murder, but hypocrisy. He never prayed: “Save me, Lord, from adultery,” but he prayed: “Create in me a pure heart, O God!” Over the centuries the echo of Jesus’ words can be heard: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God!”
And who are these blessed ones? How can this blessedness be reached? The answer was, is, and will always be one and the same: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The answer is hidden in the covenant; that is, in God’s unilateral promise: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”