Comments Off on Nametags

Several years ago hundreds of physicians and researchers gathered for the convention of the American Heart Association in Atlanta.

They were meeting to discuss, among other things, the importance of a low-fat diet for cardiac health.  Observers pointed out, however, that their rate of consumption of fat-filled fast foods was almost identical to that of other conventions.

One cardiologist in the convention center food court was asked if the bacon cheeseburger he was holding was setting a bad example.

“I’m not setting a bad example,” he responded.  “I took my nametag off.”

When it comes to character, we cannot check in and check out of our true identity.  That’s because whatever our nametags happen to say (or not say), our behavior always reveals what we really believe.

Across the entire spectrum of his teaching, for whom did Jesus reserve his harshest remarks?  The answer is religious hypocrites.

The word hypocrite is a Greek term that originally referred to the mask worn by an actor during a play.  Gradually it came to refer to anyone who was acting – specifically, anyone pretending to be one thing, while in truth being something else altogether.

During the first century the Pharisees had become people whose spiritual nametags said one thing, but whose hearts were in a different time zone.

Our best guess is that there were around 6,000 Pharisees in Israel (all of them male) when Jesus was teaching.  The word “Pharisee” probably meant “set-apart ones” – prime evidence that they considered themselves to be the brightest bulbs in the spiritual chandelier.  These were serious people – wholly serious about pleasing God.   

The Pharisees lumped themselves into seven categories. 

Some were called the Shoulder Pharisees, which meant they wore their good deeds on their shoulders, so speak, so you could always see their scorecards.  This group lived in the spirit of Ben Stiller’s character in Dodgeball:  “Here at Globo Gym we’re better than you, and we know it.”

There were also the Bleeding Pharisees, men so committed to banishing lustful thoughts from their imaginations that they routinely walked into buildings, pillars, and various objects so as not to cast a single glance at the body (or even the face) of a passing woman.

Then there were the Tumbling Pharisees.  They got their name because they imagined themselves to be so humble that they refused to lift their feet above the ground.  They would slide along until they hit an obstruction, and would then fall down.

Not all the Pharisees were such divas.  Most were sincerely committed to doing God’s will.  But in Matthew 23 Jesus has had enough.  Seven times he shouts at them:  “You hypocrites!”

Jesus’ rage is twofold.  First, the Pharisees had turned God into a creditor who needed to be paid off, instead of a Father extending arms of love to hopelessly broken people.  They had transformed religion into a crushing daily To Do List.

Second, the Pharisees had flunked their own spiritual litmus tests.  Although they couldn’t or wouldn’t live according to their own preaching, they pretended to be the valedictorians of God’s university.

The call of Jesus is that our outsides must always match our insides.

That won’t happen by taking off our nametags to hide our contradictions.

We’ll know we’re on the right path when we choose to be outwardly humble – because inwardly we know we have a lot to be humble about.