When the crowd gathered in thousands, so that they trampled on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops. ‘I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
The Pharisee in the Temple (Luke 18:11) thanked God that he was not like other people: he felt he was much better. But for everyone who thinks in that way there must be thousands who are thankful that they are exactly like others: it makes life much easier. These are two powerful and opposite compulsions: the compulsion to feel superior to others and the compulsion to be just like them. There's no hiding anything, according to today’s gospel reading, so let’s shake it out. Deep down, we all want to be the best at something, even if it is only at making people laugh. But see how uneasy a comedian becomes when he or she gets an unscheduled laugh! ‘Are they laughing with me or at me?’ He has to remain one of the lads even while being better than them. It is a hard balancing act, and we all have to manage it in some area or other.
What fuels these opposite compulsions? The urge to be superior is fuelled by the individual ego, and the urge to conform is fuelled by the corporate ego. Every one of us has both egos working in us simultaneously but not together. It is no wonder we become confused. It is no wonder success sometimes brings the deepest loneliness. It is no wonder celebrities are loved only as long as they match our idea of them. We all try to find our true nature, but we can't even find our true ego! Is there any such thing? The ego is a kind of weathervane, sensitive to the way the wind is blowing. It usually has no real orientation of its own. In that sense we are all hypocrites in varying degrees.
The population of Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, made it very clear: they loved him while he reflected glory on them, but as soon as he began to pierce their corporate ego they wanted to throw him over a cliff. Popularity breeds a desire to remain popular, but Jesus was completely free of this desire. “Do you also wish to go away?” he said to his disciples when the crowd began to desert him (Jn 6:67). This could only come from someone who lived from a deeper source than the ego. All the tricks of the ego are ultimately transparent: more transparent to others than we dare believe, transparent to ourselves in quiet moments, but always perfectly transparent to God. All the secrets of our hearts will be revealed (Rom 2:15; 1 Cor 4:5). Meister Eckhart said, “Truly, all that Jesus has eternally heard from his Father, he has revealed and not concealed from us…. And so we should conceal nothing from God.”
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