Friday, June 8, 2012
Not everyone who seems to be religious really is religious. What we are outwardly, unfortunately, is not necessarily what is going on inwardly. And so, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus next comes to address the issue of religious hypocrisy.
Having discussed the moral and ethical requirements of the Law, Jesus now takes up the duties of religious practice, which in First Century Judaism were mainly almsgiving, prayer and fasting (Matt. 6:1-18). In each instance Jesus warns against doing these things in such a way as to be "seen by men." It is, sadly, possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason.
We do not know what was the actual practice of Jews in the First Century – whether they literally heralded their almsgiving with trumpets, stood on the street corners praying, or disfigured their faces when fasting – it is possible that Jesus was speaking figuratively. What we do know is that the scribes of that day occupied an honored place in Jewish society, and this certainly would have provided the occasion for ostentation. Human nature being what it is, if a given practice is held in high esteem among our peers, our natural tendency will be to take pride in doing it.
But this raises a serious question: what is our real motive for engaging in these activities? A genuine concern to help the poor and a sincere desire to honor God? Or is it really to impress our fellow humans? And if the latter, what religious value does it have? The answer is, none at all. It is, in fact, a species of irreligion: instead of glorifying God we are glorifying ourselves – at His expense! Thus it is indeed possible to do the right thing for entirely the wrong reason.
And in God's sight it is the reason that counts. He looks on the heart, and our real motives lie completely exposed to His view. If, as it turns out, our outward display of piety is really egotism in disguise, then it is abominable hypocrisy as far as God is concerned. And what counts is what matters to Him, not our fellow men. If our motive is really a desire to promote ourselves, the reward we have of men is the only reward we will get. The accolades of our fellow humans come with the price of God's frown.
Is it worth it?