If you’re only vaguely familiar with Bible stories and it’s been a while since your last Sunday School class you won’t likely remember much more than Noah’s Ark and anything you saw in The Prince of Egypt. If you are a more mid-level observer of the Christian faith, you may be familiar with the only story in the New Testament where Jesus gets pretty worked up. Alright, He’s full on angry.
One day Jesus goes into the enormous temple area in Jerusalem. There’s an elite country club-ish area for the observant Jews, then there is a larger area for the Gentiles (everyone not Jewish). Here they can come and pray, offer sacrifices, and generally connect with God in a way that feels more significant to them than it would have if they had stayed home. Especially during festivals, it was expected that many Gentiles would want to make an offering: an animal or some grain depending.
Consequently, some of the Jews living in Jerusalem spotted an opportunity. During a festival with a load of tourists in town, Simeon (a name chosen arbitrarily), would close up his olive stand, buy every pigeon in town and set up right in the middle of the worship area because when the God-fearing folks showed up from Asia and Ethiopia, they were going to need a pigeon guy. After a few years of making bank, the operation grew and the temple was more reminiscent of the Grand Bazaar than a holy site.
Cue Jesus. He shows up on the scene and, to put it lightly, He’s not thrilled. This place designed to have worldwide travellers come and encounter the living God was instead peddling cheap tricks and trinkets that you were told would surely impress the Big Guy. Jesus started flipping tables and wrecking storefronts. In fact, at one point He made a whip to chase cows and sheep away – an impromptu shepherd like His predecessor David.
What is my point? Sorry I took so long coming to it. It’s that God can’t stand hypocrites. Someone might read this story and think Jesus was just worked up with small businesses making a profit. An even less insightful person might think it’s antisemitic (Jesus was as Jewish as anyone you ever met). Jesus was mad because the people who claimed to follow God the most closely had totally disregarded their primary task to earn a cheap buck. Instead of guiding people towards discovering and worshipping God, they decided to capitalize on it.
I imagine if they weren’t God-followers, Jesus wouldn’t have even been miffed. This happens a lot in the Bible actually: Old Testament, Jesus, or Paul’s writings, usually if God is really upset with someone, it’s not a problem with one of “them”, it’s one of His own people who’s being a hypocrite.
Why bring this up? It’s hard not to be a hypocrite. A few weeks ago I told you about being mistreated and berated by the new neighbour upstairs. Just before this happened I was telling a Christian friend of mine the importance of Christians loving their enemies. I should have known this was going to come back to bite me.
I have always found that this is how God tests the sincerity of my words. Whenever I have a message for someone else, God seems to interject to make sure that I will actually live up to that lofty ideal myself. It happens the most when I am preaching; just before or after a message, God gives me an object lesson.
I stand behind my makeshift podium (a stand for holding sheet music) and insist God is trustworthy and He can even be trusted when things aren’t going our way (maybe especially then). Then that afternoon something calamitous happens to me and I feel my hand closing into a fist so I can shake it at the sky. I suddenly hear my own voice speaking this morning’s sermon back to me – the voice sometimes sounds encouraging, but usually it’s mocking, “big talk preacher man.” Either way the message is clear, God’s not a fan of hypocrites.
I remember someone close to me going to a conference. After hearing an inspiring speaker who had been a missionary for many years proclaim that much of the suffering they had been through had brought them much closer to God, my friend prayed for suffering that would bring them closer to God. I immediately facepalmed. In fairness, suffering and disappointment is actually the most effective character builder that I am aware of.
Now when I speak, prepare a message, or counsel other Christians, I’m pretty careful to consider in my heart whether I want God to test the sincerity of my conviction. I always do in the end, but I try to at least brace myself.
I must have lost track of this principle because again I was talking about how we conduct ourselves before our neighbours, even the ones who hate and mistreat us. I said that our love and good character were our first weapons against anyone who attacks us. The object lesson was about Paul, one of our great preachers from the Bible. When he was arrested and standing trial for his faith, he totally disregarded his own wellbeing and just testified about the goodness of God and how the coming of Jesus changed the world. “Big talk preacher man.”
Cut to later that afternoon. I was having a housewarming for my family when someone accidentally went to the wrong door and knocked only to find the agitated neighbour. An hour later someone pressed the wrong doorbell (they’re totally unlabelled), and this was all she could take: stomping down the stairs, screaming, threatening to call the police, and a requisite complaint to the landlord who has now come to understand that our very presence upsets her.
Throughout the party my stunned family who had heard the screaming offered help and advice. “I know a property lawyer,” “I’m best friends with the detective at your local precinct,” “I could go up and give her a piece of my mind!”
“No Nana, please don’t yell at my neighbour.”
“We cannot leverage power to get our way – Jesus never did,” the mirror preacher said. “Love and good conduct,” he whispered against the enticement of the more vengeful offers.
“God’s not big on hypocrites.” I don’t remember if I was saying that to the mirror man or him to me.
What’s the lesson? I am inclined to say that the lesson is to just keep my big mouth shut. Not to the neighbour, but to the congregation. I can’t help but feel if I didn’t talk such a big game that God wouldn’t have to test the sincerity of my faith so often. But as a preacher I don’t suppose that’s a real option… I guess the real lesson here is that Christmas is too long a wait to get her a card. I’m going to get a cupcake mix tonight. Something tells me she won’t eat them, but that’s really out of my hands.