Jesus said, ‘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.
‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, “If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors.’
Do you remember the days when people would dress up in their ‘Sunday best’ before going to Church? Do you remember the way in which people only ever behaved in Church with deference and good manners? Do you remember the time when talking about faith was considered to be something ‘polite’ people did not do? Do you remember when going to Church, for many, had very little to do with believing in God and far more to do with being seen as doing the ‘right thing’? I always find it interesting when such times are held up a the ‘good old days’ of Church membership. I am told that it is a great pity that such times are so far in the past. Similarly, I rarely hear those who speak of the ‘good old days’ recounting their experiences of sharing the Christian faith with others. I do hear that such work is my responsibility alone, as I hear of my impertinence in presuming that others should also be following Jesus’ Great Commission to: Go and make disciples of all nations …
Too often the Church wraps itself in a mantle of display and mystery. The different ways in which Church communities come together in worship are often very ‘exclusive’ (and ‘excluding’) in nature. When the metaphorical doors are flung open to welcome potential new disciples, the old guard so often dash out claiming that their beautiful church is being desecrated. We fit Jesus’ picture of those who on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
The message of today’s reading is stark, and urgent! The Church is called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ, AND it is called to live out that message. Living the life of true faith is not just the work of the parish priest, it is the work of all who claim to be Christian. It is so easy for those on the outside to see our hypocrisy and lawlessness. As they look in on our congregations they hope to see the light and joy of Christ radiating out, too often they see beautiful buildings that are lifeless and joyless.
Let us pray that we might heed Jesus’ words today and repent, that is turn around and follow the path he has journeyed first. Let us pray that we might live the life of faith and hope in a way that dazzles others with the light of Christ. Let us pray that we might stop trying to impress those around us and focus on God’s will alone.