There are very few things that got Jesus angry or caused him to speak out in bold terms.
One of those things was the money changers in the temple. When people use religion to make money, he gets really upset about that, so much so that he picked up a whip and drove them out of the temple. See, the temple wasn’t a place to buy and sell things. The whole bit about allowing people to buy stuff for a fixed amount of money was there so that the poor could get access to the same sacrifices the rich could get access to. Instead, a class of businessmen arose which existed to profit off of people’s desire to connect with God. If you’re the type of person who thinks God doesn’t mind if you make a buck or two off of people’s desire to do good and worship God, Jesus will have a few words with you.
The other thing he really didn’t like was hypocrisy. That word is very popular in the Bible, both the old and new testaments. It’s made its way into our language, though we forget its original meaning and now have substituted something entirely different.
In our day, hypocrisy means saying one thing and doing another. In Jesus’ parables, the man who said one thing and did another got what was coming to him, but it wasn’t as big of a deal as hypocrisy.
The hypocrites Jesus accused where typically the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a group of men who obtained religious and political power in Judaism because they knew the scriptures inside and out. They were well-versed in all of the writings and even the interpretations of the writings. Now, Pharisees weren’t the sort of people who went out and said one thing and did something else. They were quite capable at keeping the law, and Jesus even comments several times about their obvious ability to keep the laws of God and their non-violations of most of them. So he isn’t accusing them of preaching one thing and doing another. That’s not what bothered him.
The word “hypocrite” literally meant “actor”, as in theater. He was calling the Pharisees and others actors. Why is this bad? It’s not easy to understand, but a few verses will explain.
One, Jesus said that those who merely confess his name and perform miracles in his name will not have enough to go to heaven. Simply doing righteousness is not enough. If you’re not very well-versed in Christianity, this might be surprising to you. You probably assumed that the reason why Christians world-wide spend so much of their time being nice to people is because it earns them salvation. This is utterly and foolishly wrong. Let me be clear: There is nothing anyone can do to earn salvation in Christianity. It is a free gift. There is no price. All you have to do is accept it. That’s all it takes.
Two, Jesus pointed out that the people who helped the helpless were really helping him all along and thus rewarded with eternal life. That is, when you are nice to someone who doesn’t deserve it, that’s like being nice to God. And by doing so, you show that you “get it”, and thus, you’re ready for heaven.
So what does acting have to do with the above?
For starters, what is an actor? An actor shows up on stage and plays a role. Maybe they chose the role, maybe it was assigned to them, it doesn’t matter. Merely acting in the role doesn’t make you the character, however. If I played King Lear in one of Shakespeare’s plays, would that make me a king, let alone King Lear? Of course not.
Jesus is really saying don’t be actors. That means we don’t play a role, we don’t take upon ourselves the job that someone else has.
That’s what the Pharisees were doing. They were not like the Sadducees. The Sadducees were a group of Jews who actually had the right to pronounce judgment through their birthright and job, which was given them by God. Their Levite blood and descent from Aaron entitled them to actually be religious authorities in the land. It’s important that you note that the Sadducees were far from perfect. I can think of a few things they believed which directly contradict what I believe, but unless I have authority from God to contradict them, I can’t contradict them.
This sounds absurd, almost. But think of the various epithets that Jesus hurled at the Pharisees. “Whited sepulchres”, for instance. Meaning, they were boxes of stone holding dead men’s bones but painted white to look new and fresh.
Jesus was really preaching against the absence of authority. The lack of being true. Trying to be something you’re not, or rather, acting like something you really aren’t.
Now, granted, people challenged Jesus authority countless times. The Pharisees wondered what books Jesus had studied, but he was able to explain to them that his learning didn’t come from books, but from God himself. The Sadducees wondered what authority he had from his descent or lineage, and he explained to them that as Son of God, he was actually the author of their authority.
When you read the New Testament gospels in this light, you’ll see some of the things Jesus said make a lot more sense. He was trying to point people to God through his life and words, and he only could do that because he came directly from God.
So next time you hear the word “hypocrite”, think actor. Think of who we really are versus who we pretend to be. And ask yourself, just because someone dresses up and speaks like someone who they are not — does that make them that person?
And finally, consider this. If you’re going to go to heaven, don’t you have to stop acting like someone who deserves heaven and actually become someone who deserves heaven? Every Christian should be seeking a fundamental change in character, a rebirth from old to new. They should be seeking the Holy Spirit to enlighten their minds and change their very essence so that they can not just pretend to be Christian but in every respect be a real Christian.
Also, remember this: When Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, every time he offered a way out for them, an invitation to come and change and repent. The door closes on no one, not even the Pharisees.
And finally, if we are to understand Jesus’ distrust and antipathy toward acting, why do we pay attention to what celebrities on TV even think?