Rotten Trees and Hypocrisy

The other day, during a light rain, a massive tree on our lawn fell over.

Hollow Tree Hollow Tree











(Thanks to Naomi Currey for the pictures!)

Despite the fact that it only took a small gust of wind to bring the tree down, it didn’t come as a surprise. As you can see from the pics, the thing was rotten straight through. It looks like you could have punched a hole in it.

While it was still standing, though, it looked solid enough. Sure, it wasn’t as green as it should have been, but it was a TREE — tall, broad, deep rooted. You wouldn’t have known just from looking at the outward appearance that there was nothing underneath the facade.

In the Greek language and culture, a hupokrites was an actor. He was someone who wore a mask and spoke lines to portray a character other than himself.

Jesus’s use of the word “hypocrite” — which I think has influenced the common meaning in English today — charged the religious leaders of his time with being actors. Pretenders. People who put on an appearance, carried out actions, and spoke words that masked who they truly were (and in fact contradicted who they were).


hypocrite [hip-uh-krit]
a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.
a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.

Jesus was not impressed:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
(Matthew 23:25-27, NASB)

All these warnings used to scare me because after all, I am not perfect. I was trying to live pleasing to God but had no illusions as to how far short I constantly fell.

But actually, Jesus wasn’t concerned about honest failure. He told a story about that:

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14, NASB)

Jesus’s warnings AGAINST hypocrisy can also be read as a call TO authenticity: scary as heck, sure, but ultimately the way to real freedom and real life. Who wants to be trapped in an endless game of keeping up appearances? Who really wants to look good on the outside but be rotted and hollow within?

“Authenticity” has become a buzzword in our culture and sometimes it’s actually used as a code word for staying loud-and-proud in our mess instead of making any effort to get out of it. Of course, being willing to squat in the mud all day has nothing to do with being authentic. Despite the frequent caricature, Jesus didn’t blast the Pharisees because they tried to live holy lives; he blasted them because they were hypocrites.

Because they were fakes: people who pretended to virtues, beliefs, and principles they did not actually possess.

Jesus called them “white-washed sepulches, full of dead men’s bones.”

Jesus calls us both to authenticity and to holiness; he calls us to climb upward, all the while being honest with ourselves and others about our humanity and our need.

He’s not afraid of the “real you.”

In fact, he sees a lot of value in the real you, value he will go to great lengths to draw out. The fake you, he doesn’t care for.

Hypocrisy is a very natural state for us humans. We naturally hide ourselves and put on the face we think others want to see.

Jesus invites us to cast off that mask and come into the light.

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. So the LORD God called out to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:8)

When Adam and Eve stumbled out of the trees in shame, God’s response was to cover them and begin the process of redemption.

When the tax collector exposed his heart as it was — raw and sinful and helpless — God’s response was compassion, mercy that justified the man and exalted him.

The worst thing about hypocrisy is that if we insist on staying behind the mask, we keep ourselves from the One who loves the person under there and wants to set us free.

The best thing about authenticity? It’s discovering how much we are truly loved.

green tree photo






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