Jesus doesn’t like hypocrites.
Who does? When we read the Gospel that always begins Lent, advising us to avoid the piety of hypocrites, we’re all in. One problem: What if we are the hypocrites he’s describing?
Granted, we’re not sounding trumpets to announce our generosity, but we are ready to impress audiences of our own with our confidence, capabilities, wit. Beneath our bravo lurks the fear that we will be discovered. Not as confident, not as caring, not as good as we try to appear–only one word for folks doing one thing but deep down are something else, and it’s not something Jesus likes.
Jesus offers no kind words about the hypocrites; never does he empathize or let them off the hook. Maybe there’s nothing good to say. In their hypocrisy, the hypocrites of the Gospel manage to avoid the very good they set out to achieve. Prayer meant to impress others never reaches God. Fasting and giving meant to attract admiration build arrogance, not communities. As long as the hypocrites pursue their deceptions; there is nothing good to say.
Only one answer to our hypocrisy, then: Repent!
This Lenten word offers the possibility of positive change, but requires of us great courage. Before we can change, we must clearly see where we are, and that’s not a pretty sight.
Honesty turns into horror, as we come face to face with what we have done. I am not that selfish, thoughtless, or mean! That’s not who I am! You might offer an excuse: I may have done that, but I’m not a bad person. I take care of my family. I am a responsible citizen. Here lies a truth that might offer hope.
Looking in horror at what we have done, we are absolutely right: We are not those terrible things. We are God’s people. We are made in God’s image, redeemed and inspired. We are “little Christs,” shining with the light of Christ. His hands and feet in the world–that’s our real identity.
So excuses aren’t good enough. We are meant to be more than nice and good. Jesus says we are to be perfect, as God is, in our compassion for our neighbors. Perfection alludes us, but there’s an answer to that.
Over and over, the Christian journey calls us to notice, turn, and reorient our lives to Christ. As we begin Lent, we repent, hearing in the Ash Wednesday all the ways we have failed, and recoiling in horror from them: That’s not us!
No. We are God’s people. We can find our way forward when we remember this. Repentance requires simply that we hypocrites-in-recovery remember who our real audience is. The One who creates, calls, and inspires; the One who we worship. Repentance is our offering of insight and faith, recognizing that God’s mercy and plan gives us the place we need for becoming who we are.
As we begin Lent there’s always only one thing to do: Repent. So let’s get it right. See who we have become, with the hope of who we are meant to be, with God’s help. Lent has begun. Let’s get to work. Repent.