From the Daily Office Lectionary for Thursday in the week of Proper 20, Year 1 (Pentecost 17, 2015)
Matthew 6:1 ~ Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Jesus said this and then launched into a rant about the practices of “the hypocrites.” In modern English, this word means someone who says one thing but does another, or someone who adopts inconsistent positions. For example, a lot of people in the news media and are criticizing Pope Francis for taking “political” positions apropos of climate change and other issues; he should stick to “religion,” they say. These very same people just a couple of weeks ago were championing Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk, who politicized her religious beliefs through her very public refusal to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Clearly such people are hypocrites in this modern sense.
But . . . they are, then so must I be. I condemned Davis for her words and actions but defend Francis for his. I can salve my conscience in this regard by pointing out that Davis was refusing to do what I believe is her public sector job while Francis is doing what I believe to be his. Her job as a civil servant in a secular state does not entail (in fact, by definition, precludes) the application of religious belief to political issues, while that is the very essence of at least part of the pope (and every clergy person’s) job as a religious leader. Nonetheless, I have at least a twinge of a sense, scintilla of self-perception that there is a bit of hypocrisy in my positions about these two persons.
In classical Greek and, I suspect, in the koiné Greek of Jesus’ day, hypokrités, meant something different, although Jesus can be understood to be using the word in the modern sense. The original Greek means a stage actor, one who pretends to be what he or she is not. In other words, Jesus was accusing “the hypocrites” (most likely members of the Pharisaic party) of play acting at religion.
So, are the critics of Francis and champions of Davis just play acting at politics or religion? Certainly one of the news media outlets voicing the loudest criticism of the pope must be; in fact, it has denied being a news channel despite its name – it claims to be an entertainment channel (when it suits its purposes to do so). In any event, that is a question that they must answer.
And so must I. Am I just play acting?