exposing the hypocrites

see Proper 26 (year A)
“humbled and exalted”

Jesus exposes the religious leaders as hypocrites.

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others, but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats, to be greeted with respect, to have people call them by their titles.

This text reminds me of The Emperor’s New Clothes, the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale in which a couple of con-artists take advantage of a sovereign’s vanity. The out-of-town tailors “weave” the finest garments in secret, promising that only foolish and stupid people will not be able to see the magic fabric. From time to time the weavers show the emperor their progress, which, of course, the emperor can’t see, but not wanting to let on that he’s a fool, goes along with what he never suspects is a hoax. Nevermind that the foolish will see him naked if they can’t see his garments. Finally the day comes for a great public parade where the Emperor will show off his new clothes. After dressing the Emperor in his fine garments, the weavers, having been paid handsomely, slip away. All the townspeople pretend to admire the emperor’s new clothes as he struts through the crowd, naked, for all to see. But one child, having no fear of being thought foolish, cries out that the Emperor has no clothes! But the Emperor keeps on, although fearful that the child may be correct, and that he’s been exposed for his own foolishness.

The story worried me when I was young, because I rightly assumed I would not be like the innocent, truth-telling child, but I’d go along with the crowd, admiring the non-existent garment on the vain king. Or, worse, I was the king parading around in false finery. But I suppose to my credit, that meant that I “got” the point of the story.

Jesus says directly, you are not to be like the hypocrites. Don’t let anyone call you teacher. There’s one teacher. The greatest among you must be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

The opposite kind of story appears in countless folk tales where the beggar on the road is found to be Christ or Elijah. These stories pour a different fear into my heart; that I will miss the coming of Christ by ignoring the hungry, thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoners (Matthew 25:31-46).

All I can do is watch warily, knowing what I see, or what I think I see, isn’t necessarily the whole truth.


(both illustrations are from Arthur Rackham’s illustrations of The Emperor’s New Clothes, 1932)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: