When average people think of Jesus, they most likely picture an enlighten drifter that rejected authority and instead promoted peace. Most people tend to think that Jesus didn’t like authority and that he came to take down the authority of traditional religion. After all look how Jesus treated the Jewish authority of the day – the Pharisees and Scribes. But, let’s look closer at what is going on here in order to see what Jesus really thinks about authority. We can easily see that Jesus respects authority. He honors the authority of his Father through complete obedience. His entire life and ministry were orchestrated by his Father and that Jesus was careful to carry out every detail according to the will of his Father (see Hebrews 10:7, John 14:31).
All that Jesus did and said was exactly what his Father wanted him to do and say. “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak” (John 12:49). Also, as the author of Hebrews tells us directly. “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from the things which he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).
So, Jesus being obedient to the Father implies he respects authority. Now, if you don’t like the word authority – feel free to replace it with the word “guide” (see how clever marketing is). Therefore, Jesus honors his Father’s authority and later we see he passes on this authority to the apostles (see John 20:21, 17:18, Matthew 28:18-20). So, now we see authority (or guide) on the surface is a good thing. Every parent that tells their children to “do this” or “don’t do this” is exercising authority. Even the pop culture’s idea to “take down authority” is itself expressing authority. When the pop culture chants down with authority, notice that it is using authority to say “down with authority.” So, like it or not, people can’t avoid the concept of authority. The next question is what authority (or guide) are you going to follow?
You have two simple choices; the authority of God or the authority of man. What irked Jesus the most is when people chose the authority of men. It’s not like Jesus hated the authority of the Jewish leaders – the Scribes and the Pharisees. He respected them. We see this when he says, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat so practice and observe whatever they tell you” So, he respects their teaching authority because it was passed down to Moses from God (following God’s authority). However, he then when on to say this: “but not what they do; for they preach but do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3). Jesus first says listen to what the Pharisees tell you. Then, he says but don’t do what they do. Well, the Pharisees have the right authority because they received it from Moses. However, they don’t use this authority correctly. In other words, they have good teaching, but they don’t live up to that teaching. Now, there is nothing wrong with this so far. This is simply teaching to live up to a high bar and not hitting that high bar. Where Jesus really goes off on these Pharisees is that the Pharisees think they are hitting that high bar. The Pharisees teach perfection (a good thing -from God) but then the Pharisees think they are perfect (bad thing because it’s not true – man’s idea). So, the first thing that irks Jesus is switching around where we get authority. If authority goes from God’s to now a man-made authority, we’ve got a problem.
The next thing that irks Jesus when you think your man-made authority makes you perfect or not flawed. What else did Jesus call the so-called perfect Pharisees? He called them hypocrites, blind guides, and white washed tombs (see Matthew 23: 13,15,16, 27). Boy, he didn’t think too highly of the Pharisees. To understand why we have to understand that in the ancient world hypocrites were associated with actors. The word hypocrite comes from the Greek word hypokrites – which means a stage actor. The actor wore a fake mask and pretended they were someone other than themselves. Therefore, Jesus is saying that the Pharisees appear to be perfect, but this is just an acting job as they are flawed – just like everyone else. This fake acting idea makes sense as Jesus then uses the phrase “white wash tomb” to describe the Pharisees. Well, a white wash tomb on the outside looks nice and shiny but open up the inside, and it is a tomb – ugly and full of death. A white wash tomb is like an actor trying to look good on the outside while hiding their inner ugliness.
Now, when we understand this we begin to see the Jesus didn’t hate authority, he hated fake actors. Therefore, acting like you are perfect is the main problem. So, the acting job that we have no sin is the real issue Jesus is getting at. Jesus cuts through the fog of the human acting game to deliver us the ugly truth about our acting job. I can think of no other church in the world that forces us to stop the “we are good” acting game than the Catholic Church. If you are going to take Catholicism seriously, you need to admit you are putting on a fake show. There is no more real version of this than the Sacrament of Confession. Once I first read a full examination of conscience before confession, I realized this church makes you know and sincerely acknowledge you are acting more than any other church. Interestingly, most people will say they are sinners so as to appear they are good and humble to others. Simply saying it without doing anything about it is nothing more than continuing the fake acting job. So, people will say that they are a flawed sinner mainly because they want to look good – here we enter the acting game. Catholicism calls our bluff on this acting job. Catholicism says, “okay you are a sinner, so let’s go to confession and try to fix this.” Then, that is when people try to dodge being a sinner and try to come up with lame excuses why confession is not necessary. In other words, when the solution of their sins comes up they continue the bad acting job. By the way – this idea that we don’t need confession is a man-made idea because the Bible indicates that confession is necessary (see Leviticus 19: 20-22, John 20: 22-23, 2 Corinthians 5:18, James 5: 14-17 ). So, ironically when people try to ditch the idea of confession they are pulling a pharisee move – take God’s authority to go to confession and replace it with the authority of man – confession not needed.
G.K. Chesterton once said, “The smartest person in the insane asylum is the person who knows their insane.” So, the insane person that admits they are insane is much more sane than the insane person who thinks they are sane. Well, this side of heaven because of human sin we are in an insane asylum. So, the person who knows they are sinner will be far ahead of the person who acts like they aren’t. The key word here is if you “know” you are a sinner. Once you really know you are sick, you’ll be in a better position to stop acting like you are not sick.
The question is are we acting like we are sinners or are we really sinners. To better understand this question, we can compare that a sickness to your body is like sin is to your soul. I remember when I was a kid, and I acted like I was sick in order to miss school. My smart mother saw right through this and knew I was faking sick. My mom suggested we make a doctor’s appointment. Boy, this freaked me out. Well, our mother, the Church, also sees right through our acting job by suggesting confession. Just like my mother suggesting a doctor’s appointment freaked me out because it called out my bluff so to does Mother Church’s confessional appointment freak us out because it calls out our fake acting.
There is actually good scientific data that show people perform this internal acting job. In her book, A Mind of its Own, psychologist Cordella Fine shows how people frequently manipulate their thoughts so as to showcase a better version of themselves than what is really there. What Fine indicates is that outside of psychology, no one can know what a person is really thinking. We can’t know a person’s thoughts and the motivational behind their thoughts. However, if people were able to know one’s deep, hidden internal agenda, everyone would be uncomfortable with this because it would show how phony, selfish, and deceptive we really are. Fine concludes that in order for people to hide their real thoughts, they will project a positive image of themselves to others through a clever acting job – thus hiding their real thoughts so no one can know. However, Christianity declares that our problem is that God knows your thoughts. You can fool people, but you can’t fool God. In fact, in the Gospel, we see an example of this as Jesus didn’t trust the people following him precisely because he knew their real thoughts (see John 2: 23-25). Here, Jesus calls out our bluff, and tells us that he knows how bad our real thoughts are. He knows the real ugliness inside of us. The good new is that to correct our inner ugliness and bad acting job, God has given us a divine doctor in Jesus and the hospital he created for us – the Church . So, what a hospital is for a sick person, the Church is for the sinful person.
We can further see this acting job today. I live in the South, and down here I’ll repeatedly here the idea from evangelicals that there are so many bad people and bad priests in the Catholic Church that it can’t be the church Jesus established. However, when people complain about all the sinful people in the Church they sound just like those hypocritical Pharisees complaining that Jesus was hanging out with too many sinners. St. Augustine famously said, “The church is not a museum of saints. It is a hospital of sinners.” If Jesus said he was a doctor that came for the sick (Mark 2:17), we can expect that his Church has sinners in it just like we can expect a hospital has sick people in it. When people say there are so many sinful people in the Church, their sentence actually displays their own internal acting job. Their idea implies they themselves are perfect – very pharisee-like. It would be like going into a hospital and complaining there are too many sick people in the hospital. Does this make any sense? That’s the whole point of the hospital and that is the whole point of Jesus’ Church. Then, the so called “perfect” person that complains that there are too many sick people in the hospital is approached by a sick patient that says, “Yes, there are a lot of sick people here, which is why we are here. And get in line because you are one of them.” Now, the sick patient who knows they are sick is one of the best people to diagnose the sick person who acts like they aren’t sick. Why? Because you can’t out fake a faker. When my son tries to act sick, I can see right through him – because I used to do what he is doing.
Now, I ask in this scenario who fits the acting role of the Pharisee more? The sick person in the hospital is not likely to fit this role. The sick person or sinner knows they are sick and isn’t acting like they aren’t sick. Obviously, they know they are sick because you don’t go to a hospital or the Church until you really acknowledge you are sick. But the person who comes into the hospital or the Church to point out all the sick/sinful people is the hypocrite Jesus is going after. That person is so fixated on other people’s sickness they themselves act like they have no sickness – which is why they downplay the Church’s medicine (the Sacraments). Why would they be so concerned with everyone else sickness and want to take down a hospital for the sick? Who is the real actor in this scenario?
The good news is that in Catholicism the person can be healed. The second a person walks into the confessional, the actor is removed. Because one you enter the confessional, you no longer can be called an actor or hypocrite. By walking into the confessional you are acknowledging the acting, and once you acknowledge the acting, then by definition you can no longer be called an actor/hypocrite Therefore, only in Catholicism is the tag of actor and hypocrite removed. However, if you are not in the confessional, then you cannot fully brake free of the actor and hypocrite label. If anything this will hopefully make people run towards the confessional, not away from it.
Jesus wants us to stop the acting game. Be real, don’t be phony. If you are going to be a real Christian at some point, you are going to have to stop the acting game. Once you stop the acting game, God can better show you who you really are. Once the actor leaves, the real you shows up. And the real you is much better than the fake you.