Whenever I hear this gospel, I am always thankful that I am not a Pharisee. It seems that our Lord is quite harsh with them about their insistence on external observances. He tells them to stop wasting valuable energy on things that have little or no importance. Jesus calls them hypocrites! True enough, we are not Pharisees, but the Gospel message hits us right between the eyes whether we like it or not. What our Lord is telling us this morning is that what really matters is not what we say or do, but what is the motivation behind those words and actions. If they are empty words with no real meaning behind them, or our acts are without thought, then in essence we are giving lip service to one another, and more importantly, to God. Our Lord cautions us, “How accurately Isaiah prophesied about you hypocrites when he wrote, ‘This people pays me lip service but their heart is far from me. Empty is the reverence they do me…”.
If we are to look deep into our hearts and ask ourselves, “do we really value another’s comment if it is not true, even though it might be flattering?” Healthy human relationships demand honesty, and those which are not, always end in hurt.
The hurt which ensues is exactly what the Gospel tells us, “Their heart is far from me.” And the pain and hurt associated with this “lip service” makes us realize that we have been treated as mere objects instead of a person.
This is the message of our Gospel today. To make sure we do not commit a sin against another. our intensions must develop internally with no duplicity. Speak what is true and nothing else, even if the truth might cause us some distress. Often, response can be worded with the least amount of pain. What good does it do anyone to hear an untruth? We should be willing to give our hearts to one another and to God, or not at all. External gestures mean nothing if they are not based upon a deeper truth, a truth which has as its basis, the true love of God and others. We may think we give to others and to God, and we may dot ever “I” and cross ever “t” spiritually, but if it is without a proper interior disposition, we have in essence, “washed our hands obsessively, and sprinkled our food from the market just to fulfill a ritual.”
In addition to lip service, there is yet another situation in which we may fall into a similar trap, not by commission but by our omission. In this case, we omit being our brothers and sisters’ keepers. Sometimes those we know and love engage in destructive behavior, be that physically, emotionally or spiritually. Since we know and love these persons, we are reticent to say anything to them, for we may fear the loss of their love or friendship. We justify the omission by rationalizing we have no desire to want to hurt them or put them in an uncomfortable position. In reality, our inability to speak the truth is the same as giving lip service to those individuals, whom we love so dearly. For if we did not love them so deeply, the task would be that much easier. Unfortunately, our inability to act, our omission, is an external sign which is not in agreement with our internal knowledge. Isn’t our heart far from them if we allow them to continually hurt themselves?
What our Lord gently assures us what he desires for us is not spending too much time erecting and keeping afloat an exterior facade which is not congruent with our interior reality. Anything less is hypocritical.