- Pentecost 14.18 “Hypocrisy” Mark 7:1-13
“Why don’t You wash Your hands before You eat, Jesus!? And why don’t You say the “Come, Lord Jesus” (like all good Lutherans!) before you eat, Man?” (NIV translation). It’s not only kind of rude, but it breaks with centuries old tradition. I mean, this is like Lutheran… uh, er, Judaism 101, Dude! “Jesus didn’t close His eyes when He was praying, either, mom!”
Jesus answers, “You want to talk about what the bible actually says? OK! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ And man, oh man, do you Pharisee guys fulfill this Scripture richly! Laying aside the commandments of God, you hold the traditions of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do… making the Word of God of no effect through your tradition!”
I’m sure glad things like that don’t happen anymore, aren’t you?! But, oh… wait a sec. Hard not to notice that disgusting business in the news lately with all the RC priests struggling with that faithful and celibate thing. I saw the Pope on TV saying how sorry he is about it and that he just can’t fix it. And I probably shouldn’t go here, but my bones grow weary of holding it in: “Yes you can fix it, Dude! The fix is right in the Bible. Quit pretending you alone have the keys of the Kingdom and let the whole Church together exercise them, first and foremost by calling faithful, married men as pastors and having their congregations hold them accountable to the Word of God (since you and your minions can’t and haven’t)! That would nip a lot of that stuff in the bud, right now!
A guy named Martin Luther said all this, rang the alarm bells of hypocrisy and mass corruption in the Roman Catholic Church 500 years ago—and that message (then as now!) falls mostly on deaf ears. But Luther’s critique (unlike the New York Times’) was not primarily moral. He wrote: “Life is as evil among us as among the papists, but thank God, our doctrine is pure.” What does this mean? Well… that’s a great question! There had been reformers for a couple centuries before Luther who’d complained about debauchery in the Vatican and the Roman episcopacy. The medieval popes were notorious for their immorality and greed, amassing vast stores of wealth and using it in ways that would make even pagans blush. Christopher Buckley’s recent novel The Relic Master gives a fictional but historically fairly accurate sense of how things compared and contrasted between Rome and Wittenberg in those days. Great beach reading for the fading days of summer…
And to balance the scales let me say that the Lutheran Church has plenty of failures on ensuring only faithful men married to one woman are in the clergy ranks. In the last couple decades I’ve become aware that there are scores of divorced men carrying on as pastors contrary to the Scriptures. So our own house is far from orderly!
But it wasn’t the immorality that was the main problem for Luther. Make no mistake—that’s a very serious problem, but one that every human being and organization, Lutherans included(!) must wrestle with and confess failure at. As a friend likes to say: “The Lutheran Church may well be the least dirty shirt in the pile, but still: it’s a pretty dirty shirt.” The Corban trick of appearing to be philanthropic while neglecting our own families is one every church, university, museum, and charitable trust since Jesus’ day has mastered (though the name’s been changed from “Corban” to “tax deductible gift”). A glorious text for stewardship campaigns!
For Luther, the immorality that was rampant in the Roman Catholic clerical ranks then as now was a symptom, not the disease itself. And masking the symptoms is often worse than useless. The disease is, to be blunt: unbelief, twisting around God’s Word. Luther rightly saw, as few before him had seen, that the real sickness unto death is rejecting the Gospel that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone, with no works of our own— the Faith which comes only from the Word as God’s gift…
Faith is not something we muster in ourselves. It is not an intellectual process piecing together propositional truths and wrapping our heads around them securely. It’s not a feeling in the heart that comes from cultivating good behavior. It’s something that hits you from behind, out of the blue, like a mugger in a dark alley. My old teacher Hans Frei gave the best description of IT that I’ve ever heard. Growing up in Germany as a very nominal Lutheran, fleeing the Nazis in 1938, finding refuge in England, Frei recalls when he was 15 years old in London, seeing Holman Hunt’s painting “Light of the World” where Jesus stands and knocks at a door overgrown with weeds. And he said “It hit me like a lightning bolt that “it’s all true! Everything I’ve heard about Him—all True.” Believing is not a choice but simply seeing how things are. Frei would note Faith happens when Holy Scriptures absorb us into Christ’s world, mold and shape us, fits us for Him and His heaven. Hypocrisy is when we reverse the flow, when we fit God’s Word conveniently into our world, make Jesus serve our goals, aims, and purposes…
Hypocrisy is the dark mirror of faith. It comes from not answering that knock at the door. It comes from denying what’s right in front of our eyes. It comes from doubling down on our traditions, even when Scriptures flat contradict them. Once the Roman church started, under the malign influence of Thomas Aquinas (who pinched it from Avicenna, a Muslim!) to make Christianity a religion of intellectual mastery—of law, and works, instead of pure grace and faith to beggars after all—word after word of God fell like dominoes. Penance and works replaced faith. Money replaced mercy. Instead of the church calling her pastors, the Pope forced them on congregations through his bishops. Though St. Paul warned the Antichrist, the “Son of Perdition” would do stuff like this: oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God and worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God, and that he will be revealed when the restraining power (apparently the Roman Emperor) is taken away, millions fell for it. Even though Paul wrote in 1 Timothy that an episcopos—an overseer, a bishop, a pastor—must be the husband of one wife, blameless, apt to teach—and warned a chapter later that in the latter times some will depart from the Faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, consciences seared with a hot iron, marked by this: that they forbid marriage and certain foods(!) the church has gone along with the Pope forbidding the married clergy Scriptures plainly require—which Paul said would lead to rampant immorality, as it has done.
And many such things we do, even we Lutherans; yet, Jesus still stands at the door and knocks. And if we won’t open the door, He’ll try the window. And if the window is locked, He’ll just pass right through the walls and say “Peace be with you!” And by His wounded hand, He will feed and forgive us. With His own Word, He will lead us. He will keep knocking hypocrites like us over the head (real peaceful, gentle-like!) by Word, Sacrament, here, now, until we see, ourselves, like my old teacher, that: it’s all True! We are sinners, beggars after all; and yet… here is the King who condescends to make us holy heirs—children of the Heavenly Father. He gives Himself all away, on the cross, Santa Fe, till Peace surpassing understanding guards hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.