Back on Sunday, many of you probably heard the Beatitudes read for All Saints’ Sunday. Today’s Gospel lesson picks up where that one left off.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:13-19)
This can be summed up in two statements: 1) Your life is to be an example of Jesus Christ to the world around you. 2) You don’t get to change the rules in order to make following Jesus “easier.” This can be boiled down even into one statement: don’t be a hypocrite.
The Problem of Hypocrisy
If we are going to call ourselves Christians, then we must actually follow Christ. And if we are actually going to follow Christ, then we must do so on His own terms. If we follow Him but decide to change His teachings about marriage, we’ve become hypocrites. If we follow Him but decide to ignore the plight of the poor, we’ve become hypocrites. The Law of Christ, to love God and neighbor, is not at our disposal to interpret as we wish. And yet so many people do rewrite God’s Word to fit their various agendas.
To see the damage done by hypocrisy we need only look at our country’s condition today. The political party that prides itself on its progressive and open-minded policies has been exposed to have rigged its own primaries to ensure the “right” candidate got the nomination. And the political party that prides itself on standing for traditional American family values went ahead and nominated a candidate who in no way represents traditional American family values. The hypocrisy on both sides resulted in one of the ugliest election seasons we’ve ever seen, and a lot more anger and mud-slinging than usual. It could be years before either party recovers from their respective slip-ups.
As Christians, we face the same public scrutiny and condemnation on a regular basis, and all too often it is fully justified as we prove guilty of hypocrisy of one sort or another. For example, just the very word “televangelist” brings up images of men who sweet talk people into donating money so they can live it up fancy cars, giant houses, and private jets. The hypocrisy of claiming to serve Christ and fleecing the people is unspeakably evil!
The Battle Against Hypocrisy
So, rather than live in denial, we have to learn how to receive and accept the shame of our failings such that we actually grow into better followers of Christ in the long run. Our Lord Jesus himself said “light your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Does your lifestyle reflect the holiness of God? Do people look at you and say “that person’s god is worth checking out”? Jesus’ words challenge us to consider our ways, to see what of His light we are shining to the world about us. All too easily we end up casting shadows of our own that obscure the light of Christ.
He does give us some encouragement, however. If we fail in this life to be effective bearers of Christ’s light, we are not doomed. Just as we are not saved by our works alone, neither are we damned by our works alone. Jesus said “whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments… shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” He didn’t say we’ll be cast into the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. That warning is for those who turn away from Him completely, placing their faith in the false promises of false gods – a much more grievous position. No, if we simply mess up in the Christian life, we don’t get thrown out of the Kingdom of God.
Nevertheless, the standard of holiness is strict – we are to be holy as Christ is holy – and the labor of the Christian can be difficult at times. But when we stand with Christ and do not resist His Holy Spirit, we find that his burden is easy and his yoke is light. We can’t outsmart God by changing the rules, but when we join with Him in His work and calling we will find a fruitful harvest in the end. Let us look to the hope of that calling, as laborers in God’s vineyard, and endeavor to fashion our lives more perfectly according to the teachings of His holy Word, that we may see most clearly the foretastes of His eternal kingdom.