Saturday, September 24, 2011

Called to sincerity


A man was being tailgated by the car behind him on a busy street one day. As he approached the intersection, the light turned yellow. Being a responsible driver, he came to a stop before it turned red. The person in the car behind him went nuts, screaming in frustration, arms flailing, laying on the car’s horn. Still in mid-rant, the driver heard a tap on the window and looked to see a very serious police officer standing there. The officer ordered the driver out of the car with hands up, and took him to the police station where he was searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a cell. After a couple of hours, the policeman approached the cell and let the now calmer driver out. The officer said, “I'm very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn and yelling at the car in front of you. I noticed the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, and the bumper stickers that said, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ and ‘Follow Me to Church’, and the chrome plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally, watching your behavior, I assumed you had stolen the car.”

The original meaning of the word “hypocrite” comes from the similar Greek word meaning: a stage actor; or one who pretends to be something he is not. Saying we are one thing and doing another – that is the straight forward theme that Jesus wants to bring out in our Gospel passage today. Or put another way, He is giving us a choice in our lives between hypocrisy and sincerity.

Jesus today tells this parable of two sons who say one thing and do another. Asked by the father to go and work in the vineyard the first son said no but later reconsidered his decision and did the work. The second son, on the other hand, courteously said yes to the father but failed to do the work. Who actually did what his father wanted? Clearly it is the first son, the same one who had initially said no.

Jesus had a very low tolerance for hypocrisy. In the Gospels it is one sin that He regularly condemns. Perhaps because it is one of the easiest sins to fall into. It's so easy to change our outward behavior in order to fit in with everyone around us. We know it isn’t easy to honestly witness to the truths of Christianity in a world that constantly calls us into sin. But falling into this type of hypocrisy is a losing strategy, because sooner or later every actor has to take off his mask.

A very concrete example of this type of hypocrisy or wearing of a mask comes from the Marquis de Condorset, a nobleman who lived during the French Revolution. The Revolution was tough on nobility. For years the aristocracy had exploited the common people, forcing many of them to suffer and starve while the nobles lived in luxury. With the revolution came payback and so many noblemen tried to escape punishment by disguising themselves to slip out of the country undetected. The Marquis de Condorset donned the ragged clothes of a peasant and attempted to make his way to the nearest border. His ploy worked until he stopped at an inn full of real peasants. The disguised nobleman walked into the inn, sat down at a table, and ordered an omelet made with a dozen eggs; a bad move in front of a group of people who could never afford such an extravagant meal. They immediately saw through his disguise; and off he was sent to prison.

Hypocrisy is like that: we put on different disguises or masks in order to be someone or something we are not. But, Jesus reminds us that when we lose sight of who we really are, we also lose sight of everyone else, including God. And this is where sincerity comes in; the only true antidote to hypocrisy. If hypocrisy makes us blind to God's presence in our lives; sincerity opens the eyes of our hearts to find Him everywhere, helping us to be more clearly and honestly the people He has called us to be. And so, we are called to embrace sincerity in three key areas of our lives.

First, to be sincere in our relationship with God. We must never try to impress God or put on a show for Him; or change Him into the God of our own making. We must simply open our hearts to Him like little children, so that he can touch our hearts with His transforming grace. After all, He knows our hearts and thoughts and minds thoroughly already. And He knows the fullness of what we are called to be.

Second, we must be sincere in our relationship with ourselves. We must never lie to ourselves about the reasons we do things, making false excuses or immaturely passing the buck. We must take responsibility for our actions, good and bad, confident that God can fix whatever we may break. As Christ said, the truth will set us free.

Third, we are called to be sincere in our words. It is so easy to distort the truth when we talk. We like to flatter people, or make them admire us, and so we say things that aren't really true. We don't have an obligation to tell everything to everyone, but we always have an obligation to be truthful in what we choose to say; especially when it comes to witnessing to our faith. Do people know we are followers of Christ by what we say and do?

In just a few moments Jesus will feed us once again with Holy Communion – His Sacred Body. You’ve heard the phrase before: If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Well, the Eucharist can serve to strengthen our resolve to be sincere Christians, with hearts open to God's grace, and not hypocrites who merely say one thing but do another. The pure, white, unleavened bread that will soon be transformed into Christ's body is also an image of sincerity. Its beauty is in its simplicity - no show, nothing fancy, just so much flour and water, just a humble host of eternal Truth.

That's exactly what every Christian is called to be. Let us all pledge to become what we receive. We receive that simple, humble, honest Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in the hopes that we will become the same in our world. Let us make the prayer we pray before receiving communion our motto today, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Let Jesus heal any places of hypocrisy in our lives so that we may be sincere and true and convicted Christians.

May the Lord give you peace.

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