Young people are very good detectors of hypocrisy. As a parent, I tried to avoid arguments where my only retort was, ‘because I’m the grownup!’ So when my daughter was not going to bed at the prescribed time, I suggested that she could respect her young body by giving it adequate rest. She came back with surely my older, more worn-out body was also worthy of the same respect! Touché! I wasn’t practising what I was preaching, but from memory, I was also making sure that everyone’s school uniforms were clean for the next day and needed some more time before I could rest my weary bones. Those who are in leadership positions, even if it is leading a family, are under scrutiny for hypocrisy, and, if you have teenagers, it’s constant!
It is interesting that in today’s gospel, Jesus does not deny the need for religious leaders but does critique the inconsistency of the practices of the scribes and Pharisees. They say one thing but do not follow through with their actions. They, too are not practising what they preach, and everything they do is done to attract attention. They lay burdens on their people but do nothing to lift them. The behaviour of the scribes and Pharisees contrasts strongly with Jesus, who teaches as one with authority because what he teaches is reflected in his actions.
In today’s world, those who profess to be Christians are often held to a high level of accountability; many are quick to point out when words are not matched by actions. We hear of ‘the optics’ not being right. Of course, there is also inauthenticity if what we are saying and doing is more about other’s perceptions than our own integrity. Pope Francis frequently preaches on the paradigm of head, heart and hands and takes actions that demonstrate a synergy between these three things. What we think and feel should be guiding our actions. If we espouse one thing, but our actions indicate another, we are not living authentically. We are called to live humble lives of service.
Alison Gore is a parishioner at St Paul of the Cross, Glen Osmond. She works in education and formation.