Matthew 6:16-18

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18

Somewhere along the line most of us were taught that the original use of the word we know as “hypocrite” referred to Greek theater where the actors performed more than one role. Using hand held masks, they jumped between the various roles. “Two-faced” shares the same roots. Jesus has no use for hypocrisy. Why? Because it is death to honest relationships.

Watching actors play multiple roles is fascinating. Delightful even. But when we put one face forward only to get what we want all we are doing is manipulating people. We are creating a lie and forcing others to enter into it with us…to our benefit alone.

Does this happen often? Of course it does. We are socialized into this kind of behavior. We are rewarded by “being a good kid” so we put that face forward whenever possible even though we might be sneaking all sorts of stuff behind the scenes. A whole generation of people knows what it means to be an Eddie Haskell.

Part of this could be considered social decorum. Parents shield their kids along the way, keeping some things to themselves. There are certain settings that require a set of manners that other settings don’t. This has to do with emotional intelligence.

What Jesus pinpoints here is how we might use our “religiosity” to acquire public favor and goodwill as opposed to practicing a deeper, more authentic, spirituality that seeks a greater sense of connectedness and communion with God. This too happens a lot. It can be profoundly persuasive in certain circles which makes it all the more dangerous to human community and to Christian community.

We would do well, in taking these words of Jesus to heart, to do two things.

First, we need to be aware of the connections between our motivations and our behaviors. We need to resist the temptation toward any practice of the faith that is motivated by looking good to others or pretending to be someone we aren’t. God doesn’t love us because of who we ought to be or who we might someday be or who others think we are – God loves us because God is love. We don’t need to pretend or to make pretenses to curry God’s favor. Or anyone else’s for that matter.

And second, we need to pay close attention to our inner B.S. detector. We do well to pay close attention to those who put on religiosity only for their own selfish purposes. Nobody gets a free pass because they go to church on Sunday – or say they do when they really don’t. This isn’t about judging others, it is about refusing to fall for the hype.

Fasting is a good practice. To intentionally deprive ourselves of something for a period draws us into a place where we better recognize the many blessings of our lives. This is good for us. It isn’t fasting or prayer that Jesus criticizes – it is abusing these good gifts of God for selfish and self-centered reasons that Jesus names. And denounces.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we all recognize the temptation to do whatever it takes to look good in the eyes of our neighbors. We understand the allure of manipulating and conning others to get our way. And we also know the damage this causes. In our relationship with you, and in our relationships with others. Let truth and courage be our guide, that we might learn to accept ourselves as you accept us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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2 Responses to “Matthew 6:16-18”

  1. David Armstrong Says:

    Amen!

  2. Carolee Groux Says:

    All of us want to be liked, to put our best foot forward. But if we deny our real selves to God and to others we deceive ourselves. When we act like hypocrites the truth is not in us, and God knows our true heart.

    2 Timothy 3: 5 says: “Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”

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