Recognizing the Signs of Hypocrisy
Can Make Us Better Persons
Greek theater gave us our word hypocrisy and it does truly involve theater. Why? Because the hypocrite is a play actor, what you see is not necessarily what you get. If we scan Holy Scripture,though, we might find that, although it’s demonized, it’s been around for a long time and might just be part of our human genetics. Is there a God gene? Is there a hypocrisy gene? Only God knows that, but we can examine whether we are hypocrites.
As I mentioned, we today understand the word hypocrite to mean pretending to be something you are not. We can discern hypocrites as belonging to one of three categories (there is some overlap, of course):
Group I. The person whose whole heart is not in it. They tag along with the group or with you because it’s simpler, its the PC thing to do, thay don’t want trouble, but they would rather be saying or doing something else with someone else. These are the people who tell you how cute your children are while thinking to him/herself, “Why didn’t they just leave those little beasts with a sitter?” In scripture we read of the cheapo host who invites you over for dinner but wishes you wouldn’t eat so much (cf. Proverbs 23:6-8). In James 1:6-8 we are instructed not to ask God for something while knowing in our hearts that we won’t receive it or we don’t want it. This would be hypocritical: we pray for one thing but we don’t have it in our hearts.
Group II. This group includes people who purposely deceive others. This is a particularly malicious bunch who disguise their real intentions to catch us unawares (cf Proverbs 26:24-26). These people are like the Pharisees who tried to entrap Jesus as described in Mt 22:15-22. Judas Iscariot is an the paradigm of the intentional hypocrite (John 12:4-6) who betrayed ones who trusted him.
Group III. These are the most pitiful hypocrites and the group includes people who manage to deceive themselves. We find many examples of this type but Jesus takes them to task in Matthew 23:1-36 for claiming to live righteously but living sinfully. We have our own Pharisees today, some sitting or living right next to us. Paul warns us in I Timothy 4:1-5 that there would come a time when some would depart from the truth; speaking lies in hypocrisy. Self-righteousness characterises this hypocrisy.
If we do good works simply as a show, so that others can see and compliment us, if we do charity simply for the recognition and accolades then our good works are not good at all but are a form of hypocrisy. Here’s a test: Do something good, something that requires a real sacrifice, and then tell no one.
The next time you go out for lunch with workmates, think about Luke 14:12-14 and ask why are you with these people. Why didn’t you suggest inviting a shelter denizen over to your house for dinner, for a holiday? Or aren’t you aware that there are lonely people in shelters or people on the streets cold and hungry? Do you make the excuse that there are do-gooders taking care of them or that it’s just a Franciscan ideal? What favorite hypocritical excuse are you going to use this holiday season?
A good example is fasting–although it is kind of out of vogue these days–but its practice that has become a way of directing attention to ourselves. Skipping a meal or two is not only a way to demonstrate support for conservation but it is a way to center our attention on God (Isaiah 58:3-9) and showing gratitude. We should fast silently; no one needs to know that you fast once a week or how you do it. But if we wear our fasting like our praying painted across our foreheads, it can turn into a form of hypocrisy. Along this same line of thought, we are also hypocritical if we spend our time thinking evil (unkind thoughts) when we give the appearance that we are thinking about God. Same applies to our ministries. Ever really honestly ask yourself why you’re visiting the sick? Or doing food pantry?
When praying, Jesus instructs us to do it privately–or at least with some integrity. Do you stand on the street corner on a sunny day and campaign against the death penalty(and then vote for a pro-choice candidate!) or demonstrate to end Wall Street greed (and then hop into your guzzler SUV), or do you work in the soup kitchen handing out food and then criticize those who come for your “charity.” How dare you judge them to be not in need by your standards! Long prayers and a repentent face, while slinging a rosary can impress some befuddled people, even yourself, but not God.
People recite too many prayers and that’s is another form of hypocrisy. How about having a look at Pope Benedict’s teaching on the Prayer of Jesus. It’s posted on on of our other blogs (visit On the Prayer of Jesus). Or how about that ancient prayer, the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” A lot of ground is covered in a simple but honest few words and without getting into some misguided spirituality or theology. While I’m not advocating that we should not dialogue with the Creator in conversational terms, simplicity and honesty should guide us in determining how to properly pray. When we pray we must make certain that we pray rightly and purposefully, for ourselves and for others with whom we come into contact; mean what we say. If we ask God to forgive us, then we must be willing not only to forgive others (Matthew 18:21-35) but also to change, ourselves.
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