Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing” (Mt 23:27-28).
How many of us spend an inordinate amount of time regarding physical externals? Washing, makeup, the right clothes, the correct scents, teeth whitening, plucking, nipping, and tucking. How about time spent exercising through gym memberships, home exercise equipment, physical trainers, sports, stretching, running, or cycling. How about time spent towards a career through education, updating, professional learning, seminars, webinars, Linkedin and networking. There are other categories that I can add, and the point is that there is not anything necessarily wrong with any of the above in moderation and each in balance is healthy in practice.
Though if external activities are all we are investing of our time and energy, then Jesus has a point. We may “appear beautiful on the outside” with great looks, a body that doesn’t quit, and a career to die for, but what is going on inside? Are we empty, unfulfilled, achieving goal after goal, yet feeling adrift or hollowed out? Do we have all the right social skills and etiquette down, know the right things to say in public, we have friends in the hundreds on our social media accounts, yet we feel alone and not a part of anything meaningful?
Worse yet, do we go to Church, say the right prayers, are active in ministry, we tithe, are members of boards, involved in the community, and doing some great works of charity, but when the door is closed, and no one is looking… what kind of “hypocrisy and evil doing” are we up to? I bet you’d like me to go back to Jesus chewing out the Pharisees, right now, wouldn’t you?
The above represent some of the extremes of external behavior, and I am sure much of us are more balanced in our lives, but we do need to take a good, solid look at what time we invest and where we are focusing our energies. We need to examine our conscience regularly regarding a real assessment of the health of our relationship with God, family, significant friendships in our lives, our vocation instead of occupation, and our service to those within and beyond our intimate circle.
Making time for prayer, study, worship, finding and living out our vocation, and service to others helps to build a foundation for developing the inside. Making time to rest, renew, and reflect on the core of who we are in the depths of our soul, getting in touch with who God calls us to be, leads to contentment and peace. Standing up for who and what we believe in, speaking what we believe with confidence and respect while allowing others to do the same, leads to fulfillment and joy. With these points as our foundation then we are more apt to address the externals in a healthier, balanced way, such that we achieve a fuller experience of life, identity, and integrity.
St Augustine, whose memorial we celebrate today, got it right when he said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” If we spend our time whitewashing the tomb, chasing the finite and material pursuits alone, we will be restless, living life on the outside. But if we conform our lives to Christ, we will be transformed from within and find rest.
Photo: My mother and step-father at the grave of my maternal grandparents.