The word “hypocrite” has its origins in a Greek word meaning “actor”. If you have ever seen an ancient Greek play you will remember that all the actors wear masks, you never see an actor’s real face. A hypocrite is someone who puts on a false appearance, someone who wears a mask. Often, we use the term “hypocrite” in relation to people who put on a false appearance in terms of seeming to be religious or in terms of seeming to exemplify a certain virtue. When hypocrisy is revealed we know how harmful it can be. Jesus also knew this. This is why in today’s gospel (Mt. 23:27-32) he chastised the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees. But hypocrisy can come in a wide variety and in many forms.
Some of you may have seen Miley Cyrus’ act at the MTV Video Music Awards recently. I did not see the show. Since I have moved to Chattanooga I have decided not to have a TV and even when I did have a TV I did not watch MTV. (I remember when MTV first came out and when they actually played music videos. Now, I don’t know what MTV is really about.) Anyway, so many of my friends were talking about it the next day on Facebook that I pulled it up on YouTube and watched it. Now, I do not necessarily have anything against Miley Cyrus. She seems to be quite talented which, to me, makes it all the more sad that she felt she had to perform in such a way but as I watched her performance I was just struck by the hypocrisy of it all. For whatever reason (maybe to move beyond her Hannah Montana image or to prove she is an adult) Miley chose to deny her dignity and on a national stage belittle herself and her worth.
Ladies, because Miley Cyrus is a role model (whether she chooses to admit this or not), because she is someone you grew up with, she also belittled you. This act fundamentally said that all you are is an object, something to be used for the pleasure of another. That is a lie. You are no one’s plaything. You have a dignity and a worth and if others ever try to deny that then to hell with them!
Gentlemen, this act also belittled you. Basically, it said that this is all you are about and that this type of activity is all you want from a woman and that it is also all that you are capable of. It said that there really is no dignity or virtue in being a man. This also is a lie. Don’t settle for this lie.
So, MTV has Miley and her crew up on stage dancing around with stuffed bears on their backs. (What was up with that? Who thought that was a good idea?) Who do we have? Well, we have a crusty old bishop from North Africa!
St. Augustine lived in a time very similar to our own. The security and peace of the great Roman Empire was unraveling at the seams. There were many voices in society and culture competing with one another and not connecting. The social institutions were just no longer working. In the midst of all of this; Augustine was asking the question, “Where do I find God?” God was certainly not in the diminishing strength of the empire nor was God in the structures of society. In the best sense of the term, Augustine turned inward and he realized, building on the very beginning of Scripture that we are each made in the image and likeness of God, that the best place to find the reflection of God was within our very selves. That, by God’s grace, once we move beyond our fears and hypocrisies, we can recognize within ourselves a dignity that is truly undeniable because it is a reflection rooted in God himself! Augustine, throughout his life, proclaimed the healing mercy of God’s grace and that how in receiving that mercy we are healed and our dignity is restored. Augustine was no hypocrite. He did not need to put on a false appearance. He trusted in God's love.
So, after MTV and Miley we are today presented with Augustine – a crusty bishop from North Africa. His words to us today: “Remember your dignity. Don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t settle.”