Sometimes when you are meditating on the Sacred Scripture, a phrase or even a single word will leap out at you and grab your full attention. For me, reading today's gospel passage (Luke 6:39-45), the word was: “HYPOCRITE!” This word occurs smack dab in the middle of today's gospel pericope which is taken from the Sermon on the Plain found in the 6th chapter of St. Luke's gospel. The Greek original makes you jump: HYPOKRITA! As you probably know this Greek word comes from the brilliant Greek theater culture and simply meant, at first, an actor. Later, it gained a negative change in meaning to “an actor who really has not identified with his part.” From there it was easily adopted into Greek-speaking Judaism as in Sirach 32:15, “He who studies the Torah masters it, but the hypocrite finds it a trap.” A verse from Sirach in today's first reading alludes to this concept and this verse is used by our Lord in today's gospel parable of the fruit tree; the verse goes: “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had, so does one's speech disclose the bent of one's mind.”
Yes, some people can make a good pretense about themselves until they open their mouths. Saint Benedict exhorts us “Do not wish to be called holy before you are, so that you may be called so more truthfully.” The Benedictine Aquinata Boeckmann comments on this, “We can conclude that St. Benedict wants truth and not hypocrisy. The more we penetrate the spirituality of the Rule of Benedict, the more will we know ourselves as sinners before a merciful God.”
Looking at my own life and recalling what others have said to me about themselves, I think I can guess that the word “hypocrite” is a word that might indeed, trouble us all in conscience. It might be something that not only is said by Jesus to his disciples but is said by each of us at times to and about ourselves. “Oh, I was such a hypocrite to have done or said--whatever.” We should realize that that is a good thing. The first step to authentic living is to realize how false we can be. If our part in the great drama of life is to be a Christian, a Catholic, a monk, we have not, in this case, identified with our role in this drama. We are, in the words of Fr. Michael Casey “not...the real person, but only a stand-in.”
It seems that there are at least three kinds of hypocrites. The first would be the kind who are so blinded by the log in their own eyes that they cannot even see themselves enough to take the log first from their own eyes. This kind of hypocrite needs a compassionate brother or sister or some earthquake to get the log out of the hypocrite's spiritual eye. A second, more sinister kind is the hypocrite who knows perfectly well what he or she is about in living in darkness while pretending to live in the light. This is the kind of person that most moved our Lord to an anger directed to shake them out of the clutches of evil and sin.
Think of the present anger of most of the world at Vladimir Putin who pretends the invasion of Ukraine is an act of love for the one-time Ukrainian motherland of the Russian people when, in fact, it is a cynical attempt to distract the Russian people from his failure as president. A third kind of hypocrite is the kind who recognizes his or her own hypocrisy and yearns to become an authentic person and takes the steps toward this transformation, turning to the truth who is the risen Lord Jesus Christ present in His body the Church, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are about to take the steps toward this sanctuary to be transformed within and without by the reception of the Eucharist. St. Paul in the Second Letter to the Corinthians warns them about their hypocritical celebrations of the Eucharist within the Agape meals. These Agape meals, Christian Love Banquets, were real banquets where the participants brought food to the meal in which the Eucharist was also received—just as it was at the Last Supper of Jesus. However, the rich and well-off Christians brought good food and drink and acted like gluttons and drunkards and, worse, not at all sharing their good food and drink with the poor Christians who had little or nothing to bring with them, many of whom were slaves. Paul excoriates these people saying that the rich Corinthians show contempt for the Church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed— thus they do not discern the Body of Christ. Well, thank heaven, we do not have potluck suppers at our Eucharists, but we can be equally contemptuous of others, just as self-satisfied with our material success or supposed spiritual greatness, just as wrapped up in ourselves.
The Eucharist should open us up to a real love for all, a genuine caring for the needs of all, a working for the good of all in unfeigned humility, and, where necessary, open us up to sincere mutual forgiveness and reconciliation. We pray for Russia and Ukraine. Through the Eucharist we share, may the Judge of All the World at the end not say to us HYPOKRITA! May he greet us with “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for what you did for the least of my brothers and sisters you did for me. Today's homily by Father Luke.