We all like to look good. A university study was done about “bad hair days.” It concluded that when we think we are having a “bad hair day,” we are likely to feel a little less capable and a whole lot less sociable. And the study pointed out that “bad hair days” affect women and men.
We see the scribes and the Pharisees in today’s Gospel “wanting to look good.” But their attempts at “looking good” in the eyes of others did not always mean that they were actually “seen as good” in the eyes of God.
Jesus describes them: “All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, and greetings in marketplaces.”
Phylacteries were little boxes containing verses of Scripture that a devout Jew would wear on the forehead and the arm. The purpose of these phylacteries was to keep the faithful ever mindful of God. But, according to Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees had turned them into fashion statements. Perhaps this is like a contemporary rock star wearing a large cross as part of their costume but not giving evidence of really living the Christian way of life. The question can be raised: is this a statement of faith or is this a statement of fashion?
Jesus was saying that appearance was more important to the scribes and Pharisees than authenticity.
In the BBC comedy series, “Keeping Up Appearances,” Patricia Routledge plays the lead character whose name is Hyacinth Bucket – which Hyacinth pronounces as “boo-KAY.” Hyacinth is always “keeping up appearances” and she fools no one but herself.
Back in the 1980s, when Italy first began to make the use of seatbelts mandatory in automobiles, a man in Naples invented a “security shirt.” It was a white T-shirt with a diagonal black stripe painted on it, designed to fool the police into believing that the motorist was buckled up.
Those T-shirts with the diagonal black stripe may have sold well. But they offered absolutely no protection in the event of a real accident.
Many people are more into appearance than authenticity. And sometimes it is hard for us to tell the difference.
A young man was about to become a father for the very first time. He was very appreciative of the interest that everyone at work took in the news that his wife was soon to deliver their baby. Every day they would ask him: “How is your wife doing?” “Any news yet?”
He did not realize that his colleagues had started an office pool on exactly when the baby would arrive. Their keen interest was only a masquerade for a selfish desire to win the office pool.
It is a common temptation to fake interest in order to obtain personal gain or approval.
An ad appeared in a college-town newspaper before the annual Parents’ Weekend. The ad was sponsored by a local tavern that many students regularly visited. It read: “Bring Your Parents for Lunch Saturday. We’ll Pretend We Don’t Know You!”
The ad was soon challenged by the college chaplain, who posted this ad on the campus bulletin board. It read: “Bring Your Parents to Church Sunday. We’ll Pretend We Do Know You!”
Appearance versus authenticity. It is all around us. Have you checked the labels on your grocery items lately? It has been reported in the news that some manufacturers are selling similar-size packages with less of their product inside.
How something is wrapped does not always tell us what is actually inside. This is true with people as well as with packages of detergent.
The Pharisees whom Jesus criticized were more into appearance than they were into authenticity. Jesus is more concerned with what is found inside the heart than with how things appear on the outside.
And so He teaches us: “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled. But whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”