Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 23:27-28 – July 11, 2012)
The Pharisees are crawling out of the woodwork! After the vote yesterday by the Episcopal Church’s 77th General Convention to give bishop’s authority to permit a “provisional rite” for the blessing of committed same-sex relationships (it’s not a marriage rite – keep saying that!) the Twitterverse has erupted with some nasty stuff from detractors and supporters alike. We humans are always so much more likely to see and criticize what we consider the sinful foibles of others than we are those of ourselves. This is what Jesus addresses here. ~ The image of a “whited sepulchre” is so evocative. In an earlier verse, Jesus has accused the Pharisees of only washing the outside of their drinking cups. And elsewhere he reminded his disciples of the unclean mess inside every human being: “Whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer . . . Out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” (Matt. 15:17,19-20) The tweets coming from General Convention (and from those of us observing from afar) on all sides of the many issues facing the church are certainly demonstrating the truth of this! The insides of many “whited sepulchres” are being exposed to public view. ~ I’ve been thinking about the Letter of James and how it might have been written differently if today’s communication technology had been around back in First Century Palestine . . . . Perhaps we might there have read something like this:
“The tweet is a fire. Twitter is placed among our apps as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole of communication, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tweet – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same smartphone come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.” (Apologies to James 3:6-10)
My brothers and sisters, I’d like to suggest that there’s really no place for sarcastic and snarky tweets in, from, or around the counsels of the church. In them, much to our shame, the insides of our “whited sepulchres” are on public display.
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.