Hypocrites or Sinners?
It comes up all the time in conversations. The Church is full of hypocrites. I know how those people are when they leave the Church. They pretend to be so holy on Sunday. I don’t want to have anything to do with them. The normally opens the following conversation.
Me: Do you know any alcoholics?
Them: Yes, I guess I do.
Me: I know a lot of alcoholics. Every alcoholic I know wakes up not wanting to be drunk. By NOON they are drunk.
Them: Ok. I guess that’s right, but some enjoy being drunk.
Me: Maybe, but EVERY alcoholic I know doesn’t want to be an alcoholic. That’s what they call addiction. We are all addicted to something. It doesn’t have to be alcohol. It can be drugs, sex, money, anger, power and control….we can be addicted to just about anything.
Them: I guess that makes sense.
Me: I think we are all addicted to sin. We wake up not wanting to sin, but by NOON we have sinned. I think the people you see in Church on Sunday wake up not wanting to sin. By the time they get home, or for sure during the week, they sinned. Sunday comes around and they start all over again.
Me: Don’t you see? They aren’t hypocrites. They are addicted to sin.
The Lord said to the Jews who had come to him, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you devour widows’ houses and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive the greater condemnation. But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If any one swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If any one swears by the altar, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and he who swears by the temple, swears by it and by him who dwells in it; and he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.”
Yes, Christ calls the leaders of the Jews hypocrites, and not just sinners. First, He knows their hearts. He also makes a distinction. They weren’t even trying to live as they should. They were simply making rules they expected others to follow. They were exempt from following the rules. That is hypocrisy.
I’m not saying hypocrisy doesn’t exist in the Church. Just like some alcoholics like being drunk, I’m sure there are some hypocrites in the Church. I haven’t met one. I’ve met a lot of people addicted to sin, but I have never met a single member of the Church who pretends to be holy. Go back and read the opening verse in today’s passage. “For a PRETENSE you make long prayers.” The Jewish leaders were pretending to care.
The next time you are tempted to stay home from Church because the Church is filled with hypocrites, consider their addiction. Then consider your addiction. If they are hypocrites for sinning when they aren’t in Church, so are we. Unless, of course, you have found a way to avoid sin altogether.
In the meantime, do your best to remember the difference between a hypocrite and a sinner. If you don’t realize your addiction, then maybe you’re the hypocrite.