After what is considered one of the more profound discourses in history, Jesus draws lines by starting on a rampage against hypocrisy. This quickly nullifies the notion of Jesus being a pacifist and liking everyone: he has a serious problem with the poser religious type that can’t take the fake face off.
Jesus uses the same pattern to describe each of these people:
1) They’re hypocrites. They don’t really mean what they’re doing.
2) They do it in public. Their primary motive is showmanship.
3) They have received their reward. The desired attention is all they’ll really get out of it.
This list is not discriminant between church people and otherwise. You can be a staunch atheist, a skeptic, a Buddhist — doesn’t matter. Being human qualifies you for being capable of a masterful performance.
You might be a hypocrite if you are:
1) Giving stuff away for show. (v. 1-4) Charity for a tax write-off? Telling people you sponsor a child in Sudan to get extra church points? It might be time to check your motives. Even tithing because you feel guilty or to please people is hypocritical. Put your money where your heart is, not just where it’s expected.
The alternative: do it secretly.
2) Praying for attention. (v. 5-6) Saying “I’ll pray for you,” or lying about how long your quiet time is every morning is the same thing. The purpose of praying is talking to God, not to show off your Christianese skills.
The alternative: pray in private.
3) Babbling on and on to sound earnest or legitimate. (v. 7) The context is prayer, but using lengthy discourses to sound smart or having the last word also fall into this category. Employing fallacious arguments is no different. Politicians are pros at this. College students are not far off, either. Yours truly is guilty of this one.
The alternative: keep it simple.
4) Conveniently not forgiving people. (v. 14-15) I know it’s uncomfortable to let go of that grudge. You can even sculpt a face of “I’m fine” every day, but you’re not fooling God. You’re not helping yourself, either. Quit faking it and let it go already.
The alternative: humble yourself and forgive him.
5) Performing spiritual disciplines to appear spiritual. (v. 16-18) We don’t fast from food very often in this country. We enjoy eating way too much. But we can still look awesome by saying we’re connected to God, or posting about a death on Facebook and saying we’re sending angels or good thoughts or something equally absurd.
The alternative: check your heart with God, not other people.