The Dangers of Religious Hypocrisy

Lenten meditations on justice and peace

Saturday, March 21

Readings: Hosea 6:1-6, Psalm 51, Luke 18:9-14

Oh the pretentiousness of the religious hypocrite. See how we are in solidarity with the poor! (Although there hasn't been a poor person in our house for years and we warn all our friends not to go to those parts of town. They are much too dangerous for us proper people.) See how we love all people! (As long as they belong to our socioeconomic class and basically look and dress like we do.) How wonderful it is that we aren't like those kinds of people. (Who are obviously degenerates. How could they be otherwise? They don't have any money or status or power.)

Christ refers today to two kinds of people -- on one hand is the righteous Pharisee, a leader in the community, a defender of the faith -- on the other hand is a despised tax collector, collaborator with the Romans, a sinful person. All righteous people are convinced that he is going to hell in a handbasket, and quite quickly too.

Who does God listen to? Not the self-righteous leader who has status and assets and position, but rather the despised, the marginalized, the rejected, the humble. All who exalt themselves are rejected; all who humble themselves are accepted.

Hosea reminds us that in our affliction, we look to God, and we are promised that if we do return to the Lord, he will hear our prayers, he will be to us like rain on a dry desert -- a rain in the springtime, that brings forth fruit in abundance.

We are warned of the dangers of piety that is only "skin deep", that vanishes like the morning dew or the early cloud. Again we are told, for perhaps the umpteenth time during this cycle of Lenten readings, that God desires love, not rote performance of cultic sacrifices.

Prayer intentions today:

+ For the proud and self-righteous, that they will be brought to repentance and humility.

+ For the rejected, the despised, and the marginalized, that they will come to understand that God hears their prayer and that even as human society rejects them, God opens his arms to them in love.

Praxis today:

+ In preparation for a Lenten confession, review your lists of sins and virtues and the social challenges your community faces.

+ When somebody speaks disparagingly of those who are rejected, speak up boldly in their defense.