Saturday, October 14, 2017

Hypocrisy Exposed

Two-faced is what we sometimes call it.  There are other names as well:  duplicitous, double-dealing, fraudulent, phony.  In Matthew 22:15-22, the gospel lesson appointed for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, Jesus calls it what it is:  hypocrisy.  This controversy story is only the first of several which will end in Jesus' march to the Cross.  His willingness to expose the religious leaders for the frauds they were eventually cost him his life.  How will we react when Jesus shows us our hypocrisy?

(The following questions have been developed as a way of getting at the some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers.  They are part of a method I more fully develop in my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  The Word functions here as pure Law.  It does the task of holding up a mirror to those who would rather not see whom they really are.  It "breaks the rock in pieces" as Luther said, exposing the sin beneath.  There is no holding back in this controversy between Jesus and the disciples of the Pharisees.  He rails against  them with their polite phoniness:  "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?"

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There are few texts as bereft of a gospel word as this one.  Jesus is taking on the powers of this world.  He will die for the sins of all, but there is no word here which declares the gift his death will be to the world.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  As always we must identify with the ones whom the Word addresses.  This means that here we must identify with these self-serving hypocrites.  This is a tough place to put ourselves, but this text challenges us to ask, "How have I been phony, two-faced, and hypocritical?  How have I declared a self-righteousness which is at odds with how I actually live?  How have I tried to play the polite questioner of God, when in my heart of hearts I am dismissive of all God stands for?  Tough questions indeed.

Note:  It is so easy to read these texts and think of others whom we imagine this word addresses.  We so easily think of public examples of misconduct (e.g. politicians, clergy in misconduct, etc.) whom exemplify hypocrisy and fail to embrace this text as a mirror to ourselves.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  In addition to its function as Law, this text also functions as a call to obedience in that we are invited implicitly to live authentically as disciples of Christ.  We are called to throw aside our penchant for false living, and live humbly and faithfully as disciples of Christ.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Since the gospel word is absent here, we need to use our imagination to come up with couplets.  Some ideas:  hidden lives/open lives; self-righteousness/Christ's righteousness; two-faced/whole-hearted.

6.  Exegetical work:  It is noteworthy that the use of the word translated "put to the test" in verse 18 is a word Matthew only uses for the work of Satan and the work of the Pharisees.  Satan is the tempter and the Pharisees are his disciples.  This is consistent with the way Jesus portrays the religious leaders throughout his gospel:  they are irredeemable.  In Matthew there are no good examples amongst the Pharisees.  The term "hypocrite" is also a favorite term for the Pharisees in  Matthew's gospel.  Out of the 20 times this term is used in the NT, 15 of them occur in Matthew.  Chapter 23 is the place where Jesus really unloads.  According to Kittel's analysis, "The [hypocrisy] of the adversaries [of Jesus] consists in the fact that they are concerned about their status with men (sic) rather than their standing before God.  They thus fail to achieve the righteousness which they pretend to have."  (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. VIII, p. 568)  Severus of Antioch, 6th century bishop, gives this insightful analysis: Those who "don't know where [this] one is from call him 'Master'."  Those who were calling him deceiver say, "We know you are truthful."  Those who were saying, "He has a demon," witness that he teaches truth.  (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. 1b, p. 149)

7.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  Charles Rice was a champion of the shared story of the listener.  He felt that a preacher's main task was to connect the story of the text with the story of the listener.  In this text it is worth pondering how our own experiences of hypocrisy connect with those whom Jesus confronted.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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