The word “hypocrite” has its origins in a Greek word meaning “actor”. If you have ever seen an ancient Greek play you will remember that all the actors wear masks, you never see an actor’s real face. A hypocrite is someone who puts on a false appearance, someone who wears a mask. Often, we use the term “hypocrite” in relation to people who put on a false appearance in terms of seeming to be religious or in terms of seeming to exemplify a certain virtue. When hypocrisy is revealed we know how harmful it can be. Jesus also knew this. This is why in today’s gospel (Mt. 23:27-32) he chastised the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees. But hypocrisy can come in a wide variety and in many forms.
Some of you may have seen Miley Cyrus’ act at the MTV Video Music Awards recently. I did not see the show. Since I have moved to Chattanooga I have decided not to have a TV and even when I did have a TV I did not watch MTV. (I remember when MTV first came out and when they actually played music videos. Now, I don’t know what MTV is really about.) Anyway, so many of my friends were talking about it the next day on Facebook that I pulled it up on YouTube and watched it. Now, I do not necessarily have anything against Miley Cyrus. She seems to be quite talented which, to me, makes it all the more sad that she felt she had to perform in such a way but as I watched her performance I was just struck by the hypocrisy of it all. For whatever reason (maybe to move beyond her Hannah Montana image or to prove she is an adult) Miley chose to deny her dignity and on a national stage belittle herself and her worth.
Ladies, because Miley Cyrus is a role model (whether she chooses to admit this or not), because she is someone you grew up with, she also belittled you. This act fundamentally said that all you are is an object, something to be used for the pleasure of another. That is a lie. You are no one’s plaything. You have a dignity and a worth and if others ever try to deny that then to hell with them!
Gentlemen, this act also belittled you. Basically, it said that this is all you are about and that this type of activity is all you want from a woman and that it is also all that you are capable of. It said that there really is no dignity or virtue in being a man. This also is a lie. Don’t settle for this lie.
So, MTV has Miley and her crew up on stage dancing around with stuffed bears on their backs. (What was up with that? Who thought that was a good idea?) Who do we have? Well, we have a crusty old bishop from North Africa!
St. Augustine lived in a time very similar to our own. The security and peace of the great Roman Empire was unraveling at the seams. There were many voices in society and culture competing with one another and not connecting. The social institutions were just no longer working. In the midst of all of this; Augustine was asking the question, “Where do I find God?” God was certainly not in the diminishing strength of the empire nor was God in the structures of society. In the best sense of the term, Augustine turned inward and he realized, building on the very beginning of Scripture that we are each made in the image and likeness of God, that the best place to find the reflection of God was within our very selves. That, by God’s grace, once we move beyond our fears and hypocrisies, we can recognize within ourselves a dignity that is truly undeniable because it is a reflection rooted in God himself! Augustine, throughout his life, proclaimed the healing mercy of God’s grace and that how in receiving that mercy we are healed and our dignity is restored. Augustine was no hypocrite. He did not need to put on a false appearance. He trusted in God’s love.
So, after MTV and Miley we are today presented with Augustine – a crusty bishop from North Africa. His words to us today: “Remember your dignity. Don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t settle.”
In today’s gospel (Lk. 13:22-30) Jesus is on journey toward Jerusalem, toward the cross and the resurrection, and he is passing through many towns and villages. At one point someone asks him; Lord, will only a few people be saved? The question witnesses to a common assumption of the time that salvation was dependent upon belonging to the “chosen people” or to the right group – be it social, religious or ethnic. (The question might actually have come from someone troubled by this understanding and so he or she asks our Lord for his opinion.) This raises a valid question for us; even if we might not say that salvation is dependent upon belonging to the right group, how often do we act and live our lives like this is so? How often might we distance others from our lives or isolate ourselves from others who are different, who have very apparent needs that might make burdensome demands on my life and time (i.e. the poor, the immigrant, the mentally-handicapped, the elderly)?
“Peace cannot exist without a strong and passionate love.”
This Sunday’s gospel (Lk. 12:49-53) presents us with this truth for our consideration. Christ speaks here as with a sense of urgency! I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! What Christ brings to us is not a theory or a proposal but the very fire of God’s love! This fire has a name: compassion. At one point in Matthew’s gospel we are told that when Christ looked out on the vast crowd he had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And how great is our Lord’s anguish until it is accomplished! Our Lord burns with the love of the Father which is the love of compassion!
Unfortunately, in our world, this love can be obscured and even suffocated. The violence and indifference of our world can suffocate compassion. Even we disciples can suffocate compassion when we turn from the invitation of our Lord to follow solely our own priorities and interests. It is easy to resign ourselves to the world thinking, “well, that is just the way things are…”
But, the Lord continually comes to us and says, I have come to set the earth on fire… Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. True compassion, when lived and witnessed, shocks us because – if even just for a moment – it forces our gaze away from ourselves and toward another.
This is the divisive peace that our Lord brings to the earth. The peace of the gospel is not the world’s peace – peace as a nice, reassuring intimacy and justification for isolation. Christ did not come to the earth to defend the peace of our little self-centeredness; rather, he came to hold forth the call of love for others, for compassion. Christ did not come to defend the peace of the rich man who did not notice the starving Lazarus at his door, nor did Christ come to defend the peace of the priest and the Levite who avoided the man lying helpless on the road. This is not peace. Rather it is avarice, meanness, insensitivity and just plain sin.
Peace cannot exist without strong and compassionate love!
The peace that Christ brings is divisive! It divides us from our self-centeredness. It divides us from our insensitivity to the needs of others. It divides us from attitudes of resignation and withdrawal. It shifts our focus and our heart toward the other in his or her need. It will not allow us to resign ourselves to a comfortable, yet ultimately life-denying, sense of isolation.
The fire that Christ brings to earth is the fire of God’s compassion. It continues to burn and it continues to purify!
Lord, enkindle in us the fire of your love!
(Some thoughts in this reflection are borrowed from Bp. Vincenzo Paglia’s reflection on this Sunday’s readings.)
“King of the Hill” is a television cartoon series that tells the story of the Hill family. It is a comedy but the episodes often make very good points to reflect upon. There is one episode where Bobby (the Hill’s teenage son) happens to be at a skateboard park one day when he is introduced to a youth Christian evangelist. This guy skateboards, he has tattoos and he plays in a Christian rock band. He invites Bobby to his ministry and Bobby quickly gets immersed in it. At first Hank and Peggy (Bobby’s parents) are thrilled. Bobby is involved in church stuff! But then they start to have concerns. Bobby is staying out too late with this crowd but it is okay because “it is for the Lord”. He begins to separate himself from his longtime friends. He stops attending church on Sunday with his family because it is just too boring.