The Show Is Over

Text: Mark 12:38-44 

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

The word hypocrite comes from an ancient Greek word that means, “play-acting.”  It was a word that was used of stage actors, those who performed on stage in front of others. 

Now, as you already know, stage actors are one way in real life, but on stage are completely different.  That is how it goes with hypocrites as well: acting in front of others, while being a different person in real life. 

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus has some pretty harsh words for hypocrites.  He actually reserves His hardest condemnation for them because hypocrites should know better.  That is to say, in order to be a hypocrite, you need to know how to play the part.  To be a hypocrite involves knowing how to fool others so that one can successfully cover up the real person with polished and respectful acting.  This means that no one becomes a hypocrite by accident, but is something done deliberately. 

The sad reality is that hypocrisy demands that a person lives two lives.  For example: a life in the church and a life at work; or a life at work and a life at home; or a life on social media and a life offline.  Basically hypocrisy happens when there is a double life: one before the public eye and another in private. 

Now, if the two lives of a hypocrite are left unchecked, hypocrites can wear down their consciences to nothing and the dividing line between acting and real life can erode away to nothing. 

“As a chameleon changes colors with the seasons, so the Christian who wants to be well thought of by everyone [by playing the part of a hypocrite], attunes and adapts to each new personality and situation.  Without a stable and enduring self-image, a woman may offer radically different aspects of herself to different men; she may be pious with her pastor and seductive with the office manager.  Depending upon company and circumstances, a man may be either a sweet-talking servant of God or a foulmouthed, bottom-pinching boor.”[1] 

There is no doubt about it that the world is full of hypocrites.  More specifically and a bit closer to home, “As Christians, individuals and whole congregations, we are often accused of hypocrisy, of failing to live up to what we believe.  It’s painful, to be accused of hypocrisy [as Christians], to be accused of not walking the walk, of being a sham.  It’s painful, especially because it’s too often true.  The people in the pews and the man behind the pulpit are all in some respect hypocrites, every last man, woman, and child”[2]

This ongoing battle with hypocrisy leads all of us to fluctuating between our real self and the person we pretend to be.  If not careful, we can become deluded and develop a sense of security from our hypocritical self; the part of us that is putting on a good show, or at least trying to put on a good show.  Our halo can get too tight, as our carefully disguised pious and polished attitudes of superiority come forth and take center stage. 

When our hypocritical acting becomes front and center, something else tragically happens.  What happens is that in public life and in front of others, we appear respectful, good, and true, while underneath the play-acting - the fa├žade - wickedness runs rampant.  These tactics conceal sin, destroy reality, hurt others, and damn us while we are attempting to say, “Everything will be alright!”    

This is exactly what Jesus condemns in our Gospel Reading from this morning.  The religious leaders were responsible to teach the people but they “used their knowledge of the legal system to obtain the property of widows.  They used their positions of trust and authority to prey on the   helpless.  Their status and prestige were false fronts for predatory behavior behind the scenes.  They lived their whole life for themselves and no one else.”[3]  They were crooked crooks who liked to walk around with their long robs and to be greeted and adored in the market place, while they were rotting with evil underneath their stage-acting.

In our Gospel reading we also read that Jesus, apparently exhausted by his own frustrated passion, sits down across from the treasury and looks at the scene over which He has just pronounced judgment. He sees many rich people putting in large sums, but his eye fastens only on a poor widow who puts in two copper coins. It is possible that this woman was one of the victims of the hypocrites that Jesus condemned.  Regardless though, Jesus calls his disciples and says to them,

Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on. 

In contrast to the hypocrites, Jesus focuses on this one woman and her actions.  The woman placing two cooper coins into the treasury – giving all that she had – stands in stark contrast to the religious leaders, thus her actions condemn the religious leaders and all of us here today.  

You see, “the poor widow who cast two small copper coins into the temple treasury may have just as well cast two large stone tablets onto our heads.  Given the choice between her nonverbal sermon and a tongue-lashing from Moses’ [Ten Commandments], I’m not sure which I’d choose.  Neither one of them leaves me unscathed, nor you either.  The effect is the same.  Both brand the word guilty on the skin that thinly veils our self-seeking, self-preserving, attention-loving hearts.”[4]

Indeed, the poor woman who gave everything she had exposes my hypocrisy and yours too.  Her actions condemn those who stand idly by and do not assist her and her actions.  Furthermore, her actions are not hypocritical; it isn’t like she is parading around with flashy show and only giving a small portion.  No, she offers her whole life at that offering box and we stand in awe, condemned.  In other words, her actions do not really urge us to give more, but reveals to us that the best of our works are not worth two pennies. 

Thinking about today’s Gospel story, we learn that we like to act like the polished religious leaders, obtaining respect and adoration from others, but we do not like actually doing what the widow did.  The Lord gives us everything – everything that we have is a gift – and we abuse these gifts and talents putting them to use for our shameful gain, while trying to play the part of a good ol’ Christian and an upright citizen of Gwinner.  As they say, we have the cake and we eat it too. 

May God through His word today expose each of our hypocritical tactics, for we are all hypocrites.  “We can be considered hypocrites because we are sinners.  We say one thing and do another.  We say we want to love our enemies, but we fail to do so.  We say we want to follow the Ten Commandments, but our thoughts, words and deeds fall short.  We are called by Christ to love our neighbors, but we struggle with anger, evil thoughts, and jealousy.”[5]

And so, the Lord is constantly trying to remove our masks, to rip us off of the stage of performance, and to destroy this hypocritical self that we create for ourselves. 

Hypocrisy - whether we know it or not - is actually prison and we have grown accustom to prison.  Regardless, hypocrisy needs to be destroyed and crucified. 

All of this is frightful to us, because we struggle being honest with ourselves.  We struggle confessing that we are poor miserable sinners, and actually meaning it.  However, this is exactly what the Lord does to us when we are confronted by the Law and when we come to the Divine Service.  My friends, do you realize that when you come through the doors of this Church, the first thing that happens is that we confess our sins before God and man?  Through our confession and absolution, we are admitting our hypocrisy, and the hypocrisy is being crucified.     

With that said and as it was previously stated, it is terrifying to be stripped of hypocrisy, for we are laid bare in our nothingness before God.  However, do not fear, for when we accept ownership of our powerlessness and helplessness, when we realize that we are poor widows with nothing in our hands, when we realize that our halos are tilted, something beautiful happens.  What happens?  Freedom!

To be stripped of all our stage-acting and to stand broken and in need of grace is a beautiful transparency.  To be honest that we are poor miserable sinners and to not pretend to be anything else, is truly a gift.  It is a gift for the Gospel proclaims to us that we are forgiven, baptized, claimed, loved, redeemed, and captured people unto the Lord!  Dear friends, hear this! The Lord does not despise a broken heart.  He does not recoil in horror of our broken spirit.  He did not come to die for the hypocritical you, the stage-performing you, but He came to die for the real you, the you underneath the mask of hypocrisy.    

Being in Christ - your good, the bad, and the ugly – means that you are free.  Free from peer pressure, free from people-pleasing, and free from the bondage of human respect. 

“The tyranny of public opinion can manipulate our lives.  What will the neighbors think?  What will my friends think?  The expectations of others can exert a subtle but controlling pressure on our behavior.”[6]  However, this is not so of you, for you are baptized into Christ!

Blessed Baptized Saints, you are in Christ.  What you are is who you are in the sight of the Lord.  Nothing else matters. 

And who is Christ?  Christ is like that widow who offered her whole life at that offering box.  He is the Holly One who offered His whole life on the cross – for you.  He is the one who never played the role of the hypocrite, but died for hypocrites and considered it well-worthwhile. Like the widow who gave all her wealth, the Savior gave all of His life, for you. 

Baptized Saints, you need not pretend.  You need not cover yourself with stage-acting for the Savior did much more than merely act.  He died to forgive you and clothe you. 

You are hidden in Christ. Who you are is what you are in your Baptism.  And what you are given in your baptism is forgiveness, life, and salvation. 

You are baptized in the name of Christ who entered the center stage of earth to bleed, die, and resurrect – all for you!    

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up and Burnt Out  (Multnomah Books, 2005), page unknown.

[2] David Warner, “They’re All A Bunch of Hypocrites,” (Accessed 7 November 2015).

[3] James Batchelor, “Sermon for Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year,” (Accessed 6 November 2015).

[4] Chad Bird, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons (Chad Bird, Copyright 2014), 110.

[5] David Warner, “They’re All A Bunch of Hypocrites.”

[6] Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel. Page unknown.

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