When I asked my son if he was okay, and he told me he was “fine,” I knew that he was far from it. He had just competed in a Taekwondo forms tournament, a risk in itself for any fragile 9-year old ego, and was knocked out in the second round. He stood next to me, keeping on a brave face, not looking me in the eye. After he told me he was fine, I motioned for him to come closer to me, where I let him sit in my lap. His arms quickly snaked their way around me, grabbing me tight as he fought back tears.
“What did I do wrong?” he asked. It was a fair question, so I reassured him that he had in fact not messed up his forms at all. Maybe some of the other kids just had tighter forms or louder snaps, I told him. He had done his best, and I was proud of him, but for that moment, his disappointment was all too palpable. He was doing his best to hide it and to root for his friends who were still in the running, so he repeatedly professed that he was okay, but for him, those were just words he could use to hide behind.
When people claim that they are “fine” or “okay,” they rarely are. In fact, they are usually quite the opposite of those qualities. And the more we claim to be fine and okay, the more those words betray our steely facades. Almost always, people who claim something just a little too loudly and often are those who are the most insecure inside. Hence, as an example, comedians are often times the saddest of all individuals. Or when someone’s looks or personality are attacked, and they claim that they don’t care just a few too many times, it’s because they really do care and are trying to hide it. Say it once, and it’s probably true. Repeat it often, and you’re trying to not just convince others, but yourself, as well.
So, people who make tremendous claims about themselves publicly are doing so because they in fact do not possess that quality and are trying to make it seem so. An individual who claims they are very smart probably isn’t. Someone who is very smart has no need to prove to other people that they are: their actions speak for themselves. More show, less tell.
While reading an article in the newspaper the other day about hypocrisy among some Christian politicians, I saw an interview with Omaha pastor Rev. Eric Elnes, who claimed that those who speak loudest often have something to hide: “Blazing with self-righteous indignation toward others is often what people use to hide their own sins in the shadows,” Elnes said. “This is probably why Jesus’ biggest problem — by far — was with the self-righteous. When it came to those whom society cast away as ‘sinners,’ Jesus was repeatedly gentle, gracious, encouraging, and forgiving, but he continually castigated the self-righteous.”
Quite true, as evidenced by the multitude of rejected individuals that Jesus would often tend to. Some of his closest friends were those who had outwardly sinned for the whole world to see (prostitutes, tax collectors, thieves), those who never claimed to be good people. For Christ, he would rather be with a sinner who was easy to spot than one who secretly sinned but professed righteousness and was clean on the outside. Christ knew that those were the people that had real sin to hide.
In Luke 11 (and in Matthew 23), the authors of these two books recount Christ’s specific teachings against people who were more religious than faithful, in sections now known as the “Woe of the Pharisees.” In each section, Jesus criticizes and chastises the Pharisees, a group whom professed great faith publicly on a number of points. On one occasion, Christ is invited to dine with the Pharisees, so He takes the opportunity to speak out against such self-righteous people, revealing them for who they really are. As was religious tradition, individuals were to wash before eating, not for the purposes of cleanliness but as a result of excessive, man-made ceremonial tradition that was seemingly based in the Torah (it isn’t). So, Christ chooses to forgo the washing of hands to draw a comparison: “But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness’” (Luke 11.38-9). Like those who profess that they are fine, okay, and don’t care, their outside is seemingly clean, but inside they are rotting away.
Christ desires just the opposite, that we be sinful on the outside, because we are made human, and clean on the inside, by believing in Him as our salvation. We shouldn’t pretend that we’re perfect because we aren’t. We are a chosen, fallen people, individuals who are loved and saved by Him not through our works of seeming perfection, but through His love for us. Yet we are so afraid of imperfection, that like the Pharisees, we hide behind showy, outward actions and language. This week, instead of pretending to be perfect, be imperfectly loud. Don’t hide behind words that put forth a put-together exterior. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Christ loves us for our imperfections, as most likely others will, too. With genuine words and actions, let your sincerity shine forth, and be the wholly imperfect being that you were made to be. Amen.