Be not deceived! Proper dish-washing matters. At least, Jesus seemed to think so.
In Matthew 23, he scalds the “religious leaders and Pharisees” for their hypocrisy: “You are frauds who scrupulously clean the outside of your cups and make them shine while the inside is full of mold and maggots. You love to look outwardly religious, the most pious of the pious, but your souls are full of greed, rapacity, dishonesty, and extortion.”
Earlier in the same chapter, Jesus warns his disciples: “You should listen to what your religion scholars and Pharisees tell you. They are proficient in their teaching about Moses and religious law. But don’t do what they do! They don’t practice what they preach. Even as they load people down with rules and don’t lift a finger to help carry the load, they do whatever they very well please and bask in the honors accorded them as ‘holy men.’ Their religion is a sham and a show, and they have no real love for or relationship with God at all.”
And that’s the bottom line, isn’t it? For our hearts and our worship to be filled with life.
Jesus warned us about being judgmental. But he seems to be seriously recommending some discernment. Being judgmental makes us arrogantly assume that we’d never fall into the ditch our neighbor has fallen into. Being discerning means asking God to help us see and avoid ditches and recognize folks who’d lead us to jump into one.
Jesus doesn’t say, forsake “the temple” and “organized religion.” He’s not recommending “Jesus and me and the TV.” Or the wildly popular approach, “I’m so spiritual I can hardly stand myself, but, of course, I’m not religious. I am religiously not religious. [Pat self on back.] I’ve had it with religion.” Said, of course, very religiously.
The problem is, you see, we’re human. That means sinful and easily deceived, self-deceived, and Satan-deceived. If we worship at our own church with a membership of one, we needn’t think we’ll get away from human hypocrisy. Our church of one will almost certainly be awash in it.
That argues, I think, for our sincerely praying that our own relationship with our Father is real and honest, though we often fall short. It argues for making the effort to have a real relationship with others who are working to have a real and honest relationship with Christ. The job is too big to tackle alone. And it requires discernment, up and down whatever religious “structure” we’re part of.
Though Christ’s church is his beautiful Bride, we needn’t think we’ll escape some bouts of ugliness and hypocrisy in the human expressions of his church here. All the vessels are leaky, but it’s still far better to be in one helping bail than to be outside by ourselves treading water.
The principle is far-reaching.
Some teachers teach selflessly, love teaching (in spite of the foolishness being continually piled on them by state bureaucracy, clueless politicians, etc.), and bless children immensely. They work within the flawed system to be a far better blessing than the system deserves. Why? They love their students. You couldn’t possibly pay them too much. But a few other teachers within the same school or district or state? Well, their motives are on the opposite end of the scale. You could not possibly pay them too little.
We all see this in so many arenas of life. It may be more starkly apparent with regard to faith and religion, but should we be at all surprised to find in groups of religious leaders, large or small, in whatever religious tradition, some who love their Lord and his people unselfishly, even while some are political schmoozers who’ve glad-handed their way to the “top” and love, as Jesus said, “the best seats” and the praises of their followers more than God’s approval? At every level, we can find those who truly love God. At every level, we can find those who are hypocrites.
I’ve enjoyed over the years a series of mystery novels set in a monastery in 12th-century England. Spend much time reading that series, and it will become clear that a humble monk in that quaint monastery knows and follows his Lord far more intimately than does their land’s archbishop whose religion centers mostly on his religious career and power. But would we be justified in such a situation as painting all lower level monks as truly holy and all bishops as hypocritical scoundrels? Of course not. (Or would we be justified in feeling self-righteous because we’re sure our group gets the organizational chart right, eschews overt hierarchy, and is above the fray and not as tempted by religious show and hypocrisy as others?) Then and now, life is never that simple.
Small church or mega-church, humble pulpit or mega-diocese, those who love Christ and his people far more than they love themselves bless us all. And those more power hungry than pious are a trial and a stumbling block to us all.
No perfect system exists. We do well to ask for discernment. We do well to pray for our Lord’s help to be a blessing wherever we find ourselves trying to serve. And we do well to realize that the only way for us, fallen creatures that we are, to avoid as many snares and as much hypocrisy as possible, is to genuinely love our God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. We’ll need our Father’s continual “dish-washing” help to get that done. To know how often we do a poor job of it? That’s progress.
You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!
Copyright 2022 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.