Posted on October 1, 2014
#73: Taking Off the Mask
October is here—the month of changing leaves, crisp apples, cornstalks, costume parties, and trick-or-treat. From toddler to adult, people of all ages will don masks, transforming into princesses and ogres, angels and demons, action heroes and villains. It can be great fun to take on a new identity, pretending to be something we’re not.
Role-playing and masks have been found in nearly every culture, including Rome and Greece in Jesus’ day. Out of the Greek theaters—with their famous comedy/tragedy masks—came a unique compound word for play-acting: hupo, meaning under, and krites, meaning determine or judge. Hupokrites (hypocrites) wearing costumes and masks, led their audience to determine the character being played by the actor under the mask. A skilled actor could make a watching crowd forget he was under mask, convincing them he actually was the character he appeared to be.
Over time, the term hupokrite took on a negative feel, used to describe anyone who presented himself as something he was not. Today, the word “two-faced” might compare.
Jesus, who was infinitely merciful to sinners, had no patience with hypocrites—especially the Pharisees and teachers of the law who pretended to be pious but were actually not. His scathing condemnation of their behavior was summarized with one sentence: “Everything they do is done for men to see.” (Mt. 23:5a)
Get your Bible and read Mark 12:38-40 and Luke 20:45-47. Then check out the expanded account of these words in Matthew 23:1-36, including the seven woes Jesus pronounced upon these “religious” leaders (Mt. 23:13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, and 29).
Mark records four specific issues mentioned by Jesus about the leaders: their attire, their public image, their “church” image, and their recognition. None of these needed to be a problem in practice. The difficulty came when pride and pretense took over. They liked to walk around in flowing robes, designed to draw attention to themselves. They liked to be greeted in the marketplace, fawned over in public venues. They liked to occupy the highest seats in the synagogues (comparable to our churches). They liked to be honored and recognized. Their top priority was personal glory. Behind their shiny religious facade, their behavior was anything but godly. Jesus warned the people regarding these corrupt teachers, “. . . Obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”
So one lesson to be learned from this passage is that Christ wants us to be wise followers. We must be knowledgable in the Word of God, able to recognize error. Not every leader can be trusted to lead well. Jesus urged His listeners to be cautious. Those who blindly followed the Pharisees were less than two days away from standing before Pilate’s palace shouting “Crucify Him!” in favor of Jesus’ execution.
If your leaders’ direction is in line with scripture, follow them and make their work a joy (Hebrews 13:17). But if you see biblical error or sin (not just a difference of opinion!), be careful. Study scriptures like 1 Timothy 5:19-20 and seek out leaders you trust for godly input on how to proceed.
The second lesson is that Christ values authenticity and is repulsed by pretenders. Remember when Jesus first met Nathanael, and exclaimed, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false!” (Jn. 1:47) He was delighted to meet a man who was open and sincere. He’s just as pleased when He finds the same in us.
Be sure the image you present is genuine. No masks, no pretense. Be humble. Be honest about your mistakes, and mercifully forgive the mistakes of others. Let your weakness be a stage on which to showcase God’s strength and sufficiency. And always, always seek His glory, not yours.
This week, take a look in your spiritual mirror to be sure the face you see is your own, not a mask. If you have hidden activities or attitudes that are sinful, admit them and pray for forgiveness. Ask God for courage to be authentic in every way, so He can be genuinely pleased with you.
© Diane McLoud 2014