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A Simple Way to Avoid Religious Hypocrisy


In Sunday’s gospel, we hear Jesus’ story, or parable, about a man who has two sons. The man approaches his first son and says, “Go work in the vineyard today.” That son rudely tells his father “no” – he’s not going to do it. Says he won’t work. Refuses.

But later, he changes his mind and goes. He actually does go work in the vineyard.

The father goes to his second son and says the same thing: “Go work in the vineyard today.” The second son is very polite, and agreeable. He says “yes, sir!” But he doesn’t do what he’d been told to do. 

He doesn’t actually go do anything.  

Then Jesus – the one telling the story, asks – “so, what do you think? Which of these two did the will of the father?”

The answer, of course is the son who actually did what he’d been told to do. The person who is obedient is not the one who says all the right things, believes all the right things, or has all the right intentions. According to Jesus, the person who is obedient to God the Father is the one who you know, actually does what God tells us to do.  At the very least, the parable is making the point that actions speak louder than words. And so it’s a guard against religious hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is usually thought of as simply "saying one thing and doing another." But hypocrisy is about more than that. 

“Hypocrisy” is from the Greek word for “actor,” one who wears a mask. 



Hypocrisy, thought of this way, is about not being our true self.

People of faith may disagree on the specific solutions to the various social problems that beset us, but here's a simple way to avoid religious hypocrisy: 

First, we should understand that we are people created in the image of, and are saved by, an “over-the-top gestures of love” God. We should understand that we are people created in the image of, and saved by, a forever-forgiving God. We should understand that we are people created in the image of, and saved by, an abundant, joy-filled, creative God.

With that understanding of ourselves, we avoid hypocrisy (we are being our truest selves) when we are engaging in over-the-top gestures of love. When we are forever-forgiving others. When we are being abundant, joy-filled, and creative.

That understanding of ourselves is necessary, but not sufficient. 
That’s because second, we must move beyond understanding, words, intellectual or spiritual agreement, intentions, creeds, and promises, and you know, actually go out and do stuff.  

In other words, Jesus wants us to focus less on what we say, or believe, or intend, and more on what we actually end up going out and doing: putting our divinely-received love, spirit-of-forgiveness, abundance, joy-filled nature, and creative spirit into concrete, tangible, visible deeds.

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