Remember the old joke about the man who says to the priest,

“I never go to your church Father. The place is full of hypocrites!”

Priest answers, “Well come along anyway. We can always make room for one more.”

In today’s gospel Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath and the Pharisees pick him up on it for breaking the religious law. He loses his cool and calls the Pharisee a hypocrite.

What tickles me is not the fact that the religious leader is a hypocrite, but that Jesus calls him on it. You see, I wouldn’t dare to call anyone a hypocrite because I know what a  hypocrite I am. Blaming someone for being a hypocrite is one of those spiritual problems where you end up chasing your tail. You can’t really blame another person for being a hypocrite without automatically being a hypocrite yourself because you’re not perfect. You’re therefore being a hypercritical hypocritical critic of hypocrites. Still with me? See? It’s like being proud of being humble.

Consequently and paradoxically, when Jesus openly and bluntly calls someone else a hypocrite he is making an implied and amazing claim about himself. By doing so he is either automatically a hypocrite too (as we all are) or he is the one person who is not a hypocrite and is therefore able to peg others with the title. When you encounter Christ in the gospels this is what you meet: a man who is totally straight. Here is a man who is consistent. He follows through. He not only practices what he preaches. He IS what he preaches.

You should do this: four times a year sit down and read a gospel all the way through from start to finish. In Advent read Matthew. During Lent read Mark. During Eastertide read Luke. During Ordinary Time read John. When you do this you get the overview of the whole gospel story, but you also encounter Christ as you hadn’t seen him before. His honesty and humor and humanity shine through. His mystery and his manhood and his magnetism tremble there. Go back to the Bible and you’ll see what I mean.

Jesus calls the hypocrite just what he is because Jesus is exactly who he claims to be–the Son of God and the Son of Man–in whom there is no shred of hypocrisy–and that is why they couldn’t stand him.