How to wear a mask the right way
1) Realize there is something terribly wrong with you under your mask.
2) Hold on to Christ’s imputed righteousness like someone dangling off a cliff does a rope.
3) Authentically private and public
He got a bad job review. Which is never a pleasant experience. To have people in authority tell you that your job performance is sub-par. But that’s what happened. People in authority came to Jesus, our text says that the Pharisees and teachers of the law “who had come from Jerusalem,” Church Headquarters. And they said, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with unclean hands?” Jesus was a sub-par teacher, that was their evaluation.
(What they are talking about has nothing to do with germs. What they are talking about is the kind of ceremonial washing that was required in the OT so you would be “clean” enough to be able to be with your church people. If you were not “clean” enough, you would have to stay away from everyone until you performed the appropriate sacrifice. There were many things that made you “unclean”, touching others who were “unclean” or coming into contact with something dead. Well, as you walked through a crowded marketplace, you might brush up against someone “unclean” or a big clay pot that had a dead bug at the bottom of it. So just to be sure, they would give their hands a ceremonial washing—washing the back side, in case you hand brushed up against something “unclean.” This washing the back of the hand was not a bad idea, but it was not required by God. So, the disciples did not trickle some water over the back of their hand before they ate. And the people in authority noticed.)
“Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with unclean hands?” That’s more of an accusation than a question. You’re a bad teacher. You’re a poor disciplinarian. You must have pretty low standards. Because notice that they don’t accuse Jesus of doing this. Just his disciples.
But Jesus fights back. Not with closed fists but with open hands. He’s reaching out to them. Because he’s fighting for their souls, like he does for ours. What he says is so personal, it’s kind of hard to talk about. “Isaiah was right when prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me; they worship me in vain, their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
Jesus uses the word “hypocrites.” In Greek, hypo-krito, “hiding under”, under-the-mask, like in Greek dramas, where the actors wore masks.
Hypo-krito. Under-the-mask. Little children are funny because they will say whatever pops into their head, “Mommy, you were my best friend until I went to school and actually got friends.” Which is funny. But sometimes rather embarrassing. “Mommy, why does that lady have grey at the bottom of her hair?” We learn, once we are in school, that it’s not the best idea to say whatever pops into your head. And that’s good.
But then, because there is something terribly wrong with us, we learn to be dishonest, to project a certain image. And we try to hide the parts we do not want them to see, like the time you spend looking at pornography or the meltdown you had at home or that time you ate an entire package of oreos and a cartoon of ice cream by yourself or that you have been considering suicide. Try to hide these things, smile and everything’s fine, we’re fine, life’s fine.
Hypo-krito. Under-the-mask. This is where it gets dangerous, because there is something terribly wrong with us–we start to believe that the image I project is the real me. That the shiny, clean-smelling person you see walk into church is the real me. That the happy selfies and cool food pics that I post on Facebook is what my life is really like. And that’s a prison. Locks in self-righteousness, and fear, and shame, and the feeling of being a fraud. And eventually hell.
Hypo-krito. Under-the-mask. In college, we were studying Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France 1804-1814, one of the greatest military commanders the world has ever seen, his wars and campaigns are still studied in military schools today. He knew how to use propaganda, how to project a certain image. He fed the newspapers and rumor mills stories about no one could beat a French army, that his strategies were foolproof. He said it so often he started to believe it himself. Then came Waterloo. And it all came suddenly, terribly crashing down. And our professor made this observation. He said, “Great leaders fall when they start to believe their own propaganda.” Same is true of Christians.
That’s what happened to these Pharisees and teachers of the law. They believed their own propaganda, the image they were projecting, that they were good people, people that God just had to be pleased with, people who were good enough that they had the right to criticize other people, you know, like the Jesus, the Son of God, and his disciples.
And how about you? Have you bought into your own propaganda? You know how you can tell? If you feel you can criticize others, like the Pharisees did. Criticize others, especially privately, at home, where it is safe, then you have, at least in part, started believing your own propaganda. Or if, when you get criticized, you get all defensive, especially if someone questions your motives, then you likely have bought into your own propaganda. And that’s a death trap.
But maybe that’s not you. Maybe for you it’s all too clear that there is something terribly wrong with you. Yes, you smile and do your work and eat your lunches, but you always know that inside, there is something terribly wrong with you. Is that you?
If it is, then isn’t it a relief to come here and to finally get to be honest? To say right out loud what you know to be true—“I am by nature sinful, I deserve your punishment now and in eternity.” There is something terribly wrong with me—and that’s it!
For us who believe our own propaganda, those words kind of feel like ripping off a band aid from a wound you wanted to hide. “I am by nature sinful, I deserve your punishment now and in eternity.” Ouch. Suddenly the hypocrisy of criticizing others when I myself deserve hell is seen for what it is.
But this is necessary so that we can move forward. The liturgy wants us to move forward, it’s like a river, it’s in motion, moving us to our Lord speaking to us through the pastor and say, “By the perfect life and innocent death of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” And that’s the voice of Jesus.
And he means for his voice to be the loudest in our minds. As those things we hide try to overwhelm us, he’s shouting, “Hey, leave this guy alone! I forgave him/her everything when I died and rose again.” He says, “Forget about that terrible thing you did, that embarrassing them, that awkward thing. Don’t sweat it. Push it aside, because my Father pushed it all on to me on the cross and I paid for it. All of it. Not only did I pay for your salvation, I did it so that you could stop feeling guilty.”
But he doesn’t stop there. There’s more, so much more. He looks at you who believe and are baptized and he says so excitedly, “When I look at you, I see me.” And isn’t that the basis of every great friendship? When you say to another person, “What, you too? I thought I was the only one!” That kind of commonality is the basis of every great friendship. And you who believe and are baptized have something in common with Christ–his righteousness, wrapped around you like a coat from the cold, like a warm, thick bathrobe, like a suit of armor (Eph. 6). His righteousness, wrapped around you with his own hands at your baptism, so that when he looks at you, he sees himself, sees his pure, holy, loving life, that makes you a pure, holy, loving person.
His righteousness which is imputed to you. Which in this context means, “credited to your account.” So that God changes his status on Facebook, as it were, and says, “In a totally A-OK relationship with (your name, ie, Josiah Paul Bader) because of Christ.” And it was God himself who wrote that, at your baptism. That’s what imputed means. Which in this context makes it a beautiful word. Imputed righteousness.
He looks at you and that’s what he sees “under the mask.” But you have to hold on to that, like a person hanging over a cliff hangs on to the rope, repeat this over and over to yourself. Because the old way, the hypo-krito way, the “under-the-mask” way, is so strong in you, in me, it always is trying to take over.
But our Lord places a trick on our “under-the-mask”-ness. Not by throwing out our masks, but by giving us the grace to live “under-the-mask” in a whole new way. Not for propaganda, to project a certain image. And not as a prison, where we smile on the outside but are dying on the inside. But to use our mask to hide from others the things that it is good to keep private (for to share all your secrets with everyone is a great burden for them and a great disrespect for those who are closest to you). And to show others not an image but the part of our real self that it is useful to show, our authentic selves. Which has this curiously beautiful effect of making others relax around us and allow for connection.
And that’s how you wear a mask in just the right way. By realizing, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that there is something terribly wrong with you—you are by nature sinful and unclean…so that you by faith hold on to Christ’s imputed righteousness given you at your baptism…like someone dangling off a cliff does the rope…so that as a result you might live authentically in private and in public.
And when you come to die, to live forever in heaven, for when God looks under your mask, he will see the righteousness of Christ. Amen