As I write Sue Gray hasn’t yet delivered her verdict on the Downing Street lockdown parties. It would be foolish of me to try and speculate on what the fallout will be once her findings have been published. Once thing’s for sure, the appearance that lockdown rule makers were also rule breakers has left a bitter taste in people’s mouths. No one likes a hypocrite.
Some of Jesus’ harshest words were levelled against hypocrites, “they preach, but do not practise. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” Seven times in Matthew 23 Jesus thunders, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
The scribes and Pharisees styled themselves as righteous embodiments of God’s law. They were quick to condemn anyone who fell short of their high standards. But Jesus removed their masks to expose all the dishonest ways in which they tried to wriggle out of doing what God required. The scribes and Pharisees were careful to give away tenth of their garden produce, but neglected to practice justice, mercy and faithfulness. Jesus accused them of “straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel”.
Jesus had every right to denounce hypocrisy. He is the one preacher who always practiced what he preached. As for us, there is something of the hypocrite in us all. We are quick to condemn others when they behave badly. But do we always and without exception live up to our own noblest principles? The Golden Rule laid down by Jesus teaches, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them”. It would be a very brave or foolhardy person to insist that they have always treated others as they wish to be treated themselves. Never an unkind remark, never an irritable response?
It is only right that those who imposed harsh lockdown rules on others should be held to account if they broke them. “Woe to you, hypocrites!” But let’s not forget our own hypocrisy. We are all sinners who have fallen short of what God requires. All is not lost, however. The Christian faith teaches there is hope even for hypocrites. God offers mercy and forgiveness to everyone who believes in Jesus who died on the cross for our sins.
* For the February edition of various local parish magazines.