The Lord said to him, “Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil. You fools” (Lk 11:39).
Jesus’ harshest critiques were for acts of hypocrisy. He did so to show, in no uncertain terms, how dangerous this was, especially for religious leaders. These men were entrusted with the care of God’s people. They may have observed the proper rituals, spoke, and dressed to match the part but this all meant nothing if their hearts were hardened and they were closed to the will of God. Most of all, the danger was when they themselves became obstacles, stumbling blocks to those who sought God. Jesus indicting them as fools meant that they were bereft of the wisdom of God they projected to have.
A recent Pew study tracing religious affiliation from 2007 to 2014 found that approximately 56 million Americans identify themselves as following no religious affiliation. Some have labeled this group as the “Nones”. I am sure the context and nuance of why this trend is on the rise have many components, but I believe one ingredient is that many feel that they have witnessed unacceptable levels of hypocrisy which has turned them off to organized faith traditions. Our present crisis regarding the abuse of minors and cover-up within the Catholic Church by religious, priests, and bishops continue to support this trend. That the very leaders commissioned to bring the Good News, guide, and protect their flock have instead abused anyone is horrific and unconscionable.
In the depths of our very being, we seek and yearn for the transcendent, the infinite. We are spiritual seekers, yet, time and again, we experience suffering, injustice, and hypocrisy at the hands of the very ones who are our leaders in both the religious and political sphere. This is why Jesus convicted those who abused their positions because he knew the significant damage that they could inflict.
No one is perfect, our leaders or ourselves. We all fall short of the perfection of Christ, even those of us who seek and aspire to live by the Gospel. If we put anyone up on a pedestal they, sooner or later, are going to fall, and the higher up they go, the greater the fall. God is to hold the priority of place. One way we can sidestep this trap of hubris is by resisting the urge to project all is well and good, that we are fine when we are not. None of us are super men or women. If we think we can go it alone, we will fall sooner or later.
When we turn to Jesus in our weakness and our sin, we can experience his transformative power in our lives. To be vulnerable, to allow Jesus to shine his light into our inner darkness takes courage, but when we open all of our lives to him we will identify and be able to release our own “plunder and evil”. The Holy Spirit can also help us to trust one another with our weaknesses, faults, and shortcomings.
In assuming a posture of humility and openness, in reaching out for help, in entrusting ourselves to a core group of people will allow the unique gifts of others to come to the fore so we can empower one another while holding each other accountable at the same time. When we are transparent with our weaknesses and willing to accompany one another, we as Church can resist the temptation of hypocrisy and instead of driving people to the nearest exit, we can welcome people home.
Painting: Supper In the House of Simon, by Italian artist Moretto da Brescia (1150-1554)