Gospel of Matthew 23: 23-26 (NIV)
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”
One of our prayer books includes the following for Morning Prayer on a Tuesday morning:
Lord, our God, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier: we ask you to cleanse us from all hypocrisy, to unite us to our fellow men and women by the bonds of peace and love, and to confirm us in holiness; now and for ever. Amen.
Well might we pray to be “cleanse(d) from all hypocrisy”. Obviously hypocrisy is abhorrent to the Lord!
The two proclamations of “woe” presented above are the fourth and fifth of seven recorded in chapter 23 of Matthew’s Gospel. Earlier in this chapter, Jesus explained what constitutes hypocrisy:
2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preach.”
Jesus’ outburst against the teachers of the law and the Pharisees because they did not practise what they preached might sound severe, however we could read “Woe to you,” as more like “Alas for you.” A note of compassion and regret softens what we might perceive to be condemnation.
Today, whether it occurs within the Church or within Parliament, hypocrisy is widely condemned – and rightly it should be, too. If any of us advocates one form of behaviour as praiseworthy while continuing to behave in exactly the opposite way, we should expect criticism.
Is the challenge greater, then, for a Parliamentarian who is also a person of strong Christian faith? It is evident that members of the Church outside of Parliament scrutinise Parliamentarians to detect anything perceived to be an abandonment of Christian doctrine by a Parliamentarian who claims to live by the Christian faith.
There is a difference, of course, between hypocrisy and being a person of principle who is forced to make a choice between two strongly-held principles which are in conflict. Deciding between competing principles, while very difficult, is what public policy makers and legislators are called on to do. Sadly, sometimes the public does not recognise this difference.
In the verses above, Jesus drew the attention of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees to what he knew to be the “weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness”. This is good advice for Parliamentarians in Australia in the twenty-first century too. Focus should be on what constitute the weightier matters of the law (within respective jurisdictions) rather than on incidentals if the attention these incidental matters receive is to be at the expense of issues that are more significant.
While charges of hypocrisy that you might receive from members of the public are not necessarily just, any such charges from the Lord will be. We all need to be alert to any charge from the Lord of hypocrisy. To such a matter we must immediately give our full attention.
Lord, in full sincerity we ask you to cleanse us from all hypocrisy.