You appear righteous

December 18, 2012

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from Matthew 23:27-28.

“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.”

The whole of this chapter is a denunciation of the Pharisees and scribes. This is the sixth of seven woes pronounced by Jesus in the chapter. The Matthean community was persecuted by the Pharisees and expelled from the synagogues. Matthew’s bitterness and hope for retribution for the Pharisees are on clear display here. In spite of that, there is a message here for us as well.

Just before the Passover the tombs of the deceased were whitewashed to serve as a clear sign to avoid contact with the dead, an impurity then requiring an extensive ritual to expunge. Worse, such contact even unintentional meant that the person could not share in the Passover feast.

We all wear masks so as to appear to the outside world that we are decent, good-hearted, likable people. We are all like the Pharisees. At least I am. I want to hide the ugly stains of error, sin, and mean spirit deep within me. In that sense I am a hypocrite; I am dishonest. There is a large discrepancy between the person I want to project and the real person I am. I even delude myself in thinking I can hide the real me from God much of the time, because of the deep-seated conviction that no one, not even God, can love the real me. Jesus wants to unmask me, wants me to stand before God as I am. He wants me to repent so that I can be embraced by God and made whole, to make myself usable by God in creating His kingdom. He wants me to know that God can love me just as I am, stains and all.

As John Sanford writes in The Kingdom Within, “This ‘heart’ is a synonym for the unconscious. It is the inner world where there are thoughts and feelings and images that, though not conscious, nevertheless, profoundly affect us and make up our true nature….It is because of the reality of the human heart that the Pharisaic attitude is so destructive to the one who would enter the kingdom. Our greatest delusion is thinking that we can avoid the unconscious and solve the moral problems of life by creating a righteous exterior, or by an ethic of outer obedience to laws. But this is of no avail, for God sees into the human heart; ruthlessly his eye penetrates into the deepest recess of the soul….For with God nothing can be kept in darkness.”

He goes on, “With the ripping away of the masks that we have been wearing and the exposure of what has been hidden within, we come to the key to the ethic of the kingdom. The ethic of the kingdom is a radically new ethic because it is based on the inner person and takes into account what is in the ‘heart.’ It is founded upon the way of consciousness, for only those who are conscious of the total self, and whose ‘hearts’ are not hidden to them, can reach a deeper morality than that of the scribes and Pharisees. All else is a facade and bars the way to the kingdom.”

I cannot hide from God. And it’s pointless to try to delude myself. His most earnest desire is that I stop being a hypocrite, to stop kidding myself. That’s why Jesus is so condemnatory here. It is the only way to a deeper, more true morality, the way into the kingdom of God. That’s the message here and why Jesus was so adamant. It is our facades, our masks, that bar us from genuine relationships with one another and with God. Without genuine relationship, there can be no genuine love. The truth of that is revealed in our most intimate relationships, especially our relationship with God.



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