Last week I identified the undesired propensities of religion as one of the reasons for religious distance. These undesired propensities are over-emphasis on money and the hypocrisy of leaders. Closely related to this is another point that I discovered while evangelising—the supposed hypocrisy of churchgoers.
Most of those I met referred to the character of churchgoers as hypocritical. They argue that they stopped coming to Church because they discovered that churchgoers simply cover up their evil with participation in Church activities. In the words of one: “Fr, I stopped coming because I am not a hypocrite”. Of course, part of the discussion is the condemnation of Jesus of the over-emphasis of the law by the Pharisees and the Scribes and the emphasis that it is what comes out of us that makes us unclean. Jesus subsequently listed all categories of sin (Mark 7:1-23).
The question now is: Can belonging to a religious community and participating in their religious rituals and other religious-oriented activities be hypocritical? The following gospel passage is essential to responding to the question.
“As Jesus was walking on from there he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him. Now while he was at table in the house it happened that a number of tax collectors and sinners came to sit at the table with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When he heard this he replied, ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick”(Matthew 9:9-12).
From this quotation, the response to the above question is NO. I argue that it is in fact, sinners who need to be in Church rather than the righteous. If they did what they did even with coming to Church, hearing the word of God, participating in other religious activities, what would they have done if they were not coming? Moreover, no one is an angel. The bible says in various places that we are all sinners and that no one is righteous, no, not even one (Psalm 14:1-3, Romans 3:9-10).
Therefore, if we observe the sins of churchgoers, it does not mean that we, the observers, do not sin. Righteousness or purity of heart is not avoiding certain sins but avoiding ALL sins. Indeed, that my sin is not observable by others does not make it lesser than those whose sins are observable by others. A sin is a sin and that is why among all the blessings of the beatitudes, seeing God (going to heaven) is restricted only to the pure in heart (Matt 5:8).
No doubt, it might appear that people intentionally use Church activity to cover up suspicion. I argue that this is not enough to make them hypocrites. That one realizes that the Church can assist is an advantage and a conscious step towards salvation.
May God continue to help us.🙏🏾