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A Reflection on The Gospel of Luke 12:1-7
Relief of a seated poet with masks of New Comedy, 1st century, Princeton University Art Museum (Lloyd, 2016)
There are many in this world that proclaim that Christ is their Lord. But does their life, our life, match those words? Declaring, Jesus is Lord, is to say that he dominates every aspect of our life, both our public and our private, hidden life. To do anything less, is hypocrisy. Jesus in the Gospel today, condemns the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees. (Luke 12:1) Are we, at times, guilty of the same thing? Jesus is telling them, He is telling us, to take off that mask.
The word, hypocrisy, in the Gospel today, comes from the Greek word, hupŏkrisis (ὑπόκρισις). Hupŏkrisis describes someone who is an actor, one who dissembles, who pretends. It derives from two words: “hypo”, meaning, underneath, and “krinein” which means, to separate. In the first century Greek theater, stage actors wore masks to depict and separate various characters. A hypocrite is one who speaks from underneath a mask, who hides, or separates, their true identity. It implies someone who speaks one way, concealed from behind a mask, but who is very different, if light were ever to disclose who they really are, their mask removed.
Though we may like to vilify the Scribes and Pharisees, we are often more like them than we would like others to know. How often have we sat in judgement of another; yet, we too have fallen away through sin? How often have we failed in our love of our neighbor and therefore in our love of God; yet, wear the mask of holiness? How often have we stayed away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation or even failed to make a full confession, because we don’t want “Father” to think badly of us. So, we delay or conceal. We don’t want to let go of our mask.
Jesus tells the crowds of people so large “they were trampling one another underfoot” (Luke 12:1 NABRE) that this is crazy! Our mask may fool others, it may even go so far as to fool ourselves, but we cannot fool God. Jesus tells us,
“There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops.” (Luke 12:2–3 NABRE)
We cannot hide from God! Inevitably, those who are not living the Gospel will be exposed. Jesus tells us in the Gospel today that living with a mask is spiritually deadly. He says,
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one.” (Luke 12:4–5 NABRE)
Why were such huge crowds following Jesus? He is exactly who He says He is. There is no hypocrisy, there is no mask. He is standing before them in truth, truth itself. His is a life and promise that continues to draw people to eternal life. A life lived in truth attracts. A life lived in true holiness, with Christ as its center, as Lord, is a beacon that draws people in. Jesus does not want anyone to perish. Every single life, from conception until natural death, is invaluable and so any hypocrisy on our part is tragic, not just for us, but for others as well. The Lord tells us,
“Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6–7 NABRE)
The Gospel today calls us to unmask and live as an immeasurably loved child of God that we might call others, equally loved, to eternal life. We are called from Love, in love, to love. To proclaim Christ as your Lord, you cannot do anything other than love, to will the good of the other, for the good of the other. This is a life that attracts. This is a holy life, a devout life, free from masks. Look to the lives of the Saints. There were no masks!
St Francis de Sales often used two words that orient us to a devout life, a life where, in fact, Jesus is Lord. He tells us to, “Live Jesus!” He writes in his Introduction to the Devout Life,
“above all things to engrave upon your heart this sacred motto, “Live Jesus;” being assured that your life, which proceeds from the heart, as an almond-tree from an almond, will afterwards bring forth the same words of salvation written upon all your actions; for, as this sweet Jesus lives within your heart, so will He also live in your exterior, in your eyes, your mouth, your hands, and even the hair on your head; so that you will be able to say with St. Paul: “I live, no, not I, but Christ liveth in me.”” (St Francis de Sales, 162)
Today and every day, let us set aside any masks of hypocrisy that may have crept in and in humility, live the Gospel, live truth,
“LIVE JESUS, LIVE JESUS; yea, Lord Jesus, live and reign in our hearts for ever and ever. Amen” (St Francis de Sales, Dedicatory Prayer).
St Francis de Sales. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
Lloyd, E. (2016). Ancient Greek Costumes, Masks and Theater In Focus. Ancient Pages. https://www.ancientpages.com/2016/11/25/ancient-greek-costumes-masks-and-theater-in-focus/
New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.