In the Gospel accounts, the Pharisees seem to be the target of choice for the teaching ministry of Jesus. Time and time again, we see them in conflict, disputing over matters of Jewish law and practice. In Mark 7, Jesus points the finger in their direction once again with the accompanying charge of hypocrisy. Quoting from the prophet, Isaiah, he says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Mark 7:6). It would be easy for Christians to look down our noses at the Pharisees and think ourselves somehow above the same accusation. According to one Barna survey, however, hypocrisy in the church was named as one of the top reasons people want nothing to do with the church today.
I’m sure that most people could think of at least one person who fit this description of hypocrisy. We’ve seen the televangelist who was embezzling money on the side or the high profile leader who had a very public moral failing. We see some leaders wearing designer clothes, lavish jewelry, and driving luxury cars while preaching about the virtues of humility and identifying with the poor. We’ve been hurt by those close to us who didn’t live up to the ideals that they verbally espoused or advocated. We’ve probably felt the tension in our own lives when our actions falling short of our intentions.
Putting aside these large and rather obvious failings for a moment, I want to suggest that there is another kind of mask – many of which are more socially and culturally accepted and therefore harder to recognize. These masks can even go completely unnoticed at times because they often lie just below the surface in the form of attitudes and thought patterns. In truth, however, these masks prevent us from living into and becoming the men and women God created us to be. These masks can keep us at arm’s length from God, from ourselves, and from those that we desperately want to love.
Pastoral Counselor, Dr. Eugene Rollins, has said the following about identifying these masks and the danger posed by wearing them all the time*:
- When I live into and become the “Mask of Victim,” I can wail about how helpless I am without ever taking personal responsibility.
- When I live into and become the “Mask of Silence,” I don’t have to speak out and cause someone pain or discomfort, or rock the boat or take a stand on anything.
- When I live into and become the “Mask of the Social Chameleon,” everyone loves me, approves of me and I am everything to everyone.
- When I live into and become the “Mask of Busyness,” I don’t have to slow down and face the fact that my life is out of whack.
- When I live into and become the “Mask of Morality and Judgment,” it is easy for me to see everyone else’s sins, flaws and shortcomings and I never have to look at my own.
- When I live into and become the “Mask of Self-Sacrifice,” I earn my worth in the world by how good I am at shelving my own needs to provide for the needs of others.
It is said that, “we become what we experience.” It is true! When we experience “day in and day out” the wearing of a mask, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy (we actually become the masks we wear).
The world today needs a lot fewer fakes and phonies. Taking off our masks requires great courage and vulnerability. It truly is a risk, believing that who we are in Christ is, in fact, enough. However, in a world of Photoshop, SnapChat filters, and other doctored images, that just may be the very thing that this world is craving – genuineness, human connection, vulnerability, and authentic relationships. May we dare to live into such a reality in our lives and in the Church.
*Disclaimer: There are times that some of these identities are entirely appropriate. When someone is victimized, they should not fear speaking up or standing up for their rights. No one should ever be shamed into silence. Likewise, there are times when silence is the best response to a situation. What I am referring to here is when these “masks” become one’s whole identity – when they wear them all the time and cannot seem exist without them.