"They preach but they do not practice."
We are fond of using the word, "hypocrite," about others. We are not so fond of using it for ourselves.
In today's Gospel our Lord confronts the Pharisees over a number of their hypocritical practices. Hypocrisy is like cancer. It spreads throughout the whole body if not checked. Hypocrisy is the arrogant choice to teach one thing, but then to do something different. It is not the same thing as making this mistake in ignorance. It is a chosen path. It is born out of pride. It's continued practice hardens the heart against God. In the end it breeds hatred and death. The uncomfortable truth is that all of us, at one time or another, have been hypocrites. Some of us still are.
The essence of hypocrisy is captured in our Lord's words in our text. Hypocrites preach but they do not practice. As I said, this is a chosen behavior. Yet, many of us in our ignorance behave like hypocrites. The heart is not the same, but the results often are. People still come to either believe that they don't have to practice what they preach, or they are so offended at it all that they leave it altogether. I guess this is what people mean when they say they don't go to church because it's full of hypocrites. They're sick of it all. But they really need to take a sober look at the fingers pointing back at them and not just the one they're pointing at others. We all have a lot of work to do in this area.
Most of us know more than we practice. We know we're supposed to share with the less fortunate. We don't always do it. We know we're supposed to turn the other cheek and love our enemies. We don't always do it. We know we must be self-controlled in our eating and pleasures. We don't always practice that. Whether intentional or not, this gives a hypocritical example. What should we do?
We need to begin with a humble confession to God. This should be followed by an equally humble confession to anyone we have hurt or offended. Then we should prayerfully begin to review the teaching of our Lord and ask ourselves, point by point, are we practicing these things? If not, stop and begin to take steps to put this aspect of the Faith into practice.
We cannot help that we have been hypocrites in the past. But we can change how we behave in the future. To choose to abandon hypocrisy and truly practice what we preach is to choose the road of humility. It is to live a life that is truly righteous. By the grace of God, let us not be afraid to journey on this road!