James chapter 1, verses 17-27
Mark chapter 7, verses 1-23
Who among us would not respond angrily if someone were to call us a hypocrite? And yet, who among us is not guilty of hypocrisy?
In speaking of us, God says: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
Is there even one among us to whom these words have never been applicable? How easy it is to say: “I believe …Thy will be done …Lord, I am not worthy …Forgive me as I forgive others …and, of course, Amen upon Amen!” But as James warns us, these words that we hear in Sacred Scripture and recite in prayer tell us something …they tell us what we must do. James says: “accept and submit to the Word that has been planted in you …you must do what the Word tells you and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.”
James reminds us that we must guard against being contaminated by the world. What does that mean? Well it certainly does not mean that we are to insulate ourselves from the social, economic and political issues and activities of our time. As Jesus said: “Nothing that goes into a person from the outside can make them unclean.”
However if we lose our sense of balance and of proportion to the point where our values become mainly materialistic, utilitarian and even hedonistic, it can then be said that we have indeed become unclean, contaminated or stained by the world.
There is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying this life, with pursuing financial success or with appreciating the many material conveniences of our modern society. But if we enjoy, pursue and appreciate without the moderating influence of justice, integrity and generosity we will become, according to Jesus, “unclean.” Unclean, not because of what went into us but rather because of the distortions that come out of us in the form of pride, avarice, deceit, slander and so on.
Jesus and James caution us against that all too familiar gap between what we say in church and what we do outside. They remind us that in order to avoid hypocrisy we need to be guided by a moral measuring stick of a kind other than those that are marked solely in degrees of pleasure, usefulness and profit. Our measuring stick must bear a scale that also reads levels of justice, integrity and generosity …perhaps we could call it a balance stick.
Then it could be rightly said of us that: “This people honors me, not only with their lips but with their hearts as well.” And in the words of Deuteronomy… “We will demonstrate our wisdom and our understanding.”