I’ve wanted to do a post for some time regarding the distinctions between hierarchy and hypocrisy. As I was preparing to write on this subject, I realized it would be going up during Easter week. I hesitated for a moment. Should I switch to something more relevant to Jesus’s death and resurrection? I wondered.
As I was praying and contemplating my next step, it occurred to me how often the Bible calls people out for being hypocrites. (If you do a quick online search, you’ll find at least a dozen references, usually said by Jesus.) The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize the conversation of hierarchy vs hypocrisy and Jesus’s story are connected.
Before we proceed, we should first come to a consensus on our definitions of hierarchy and hypocrisy. Hierarchy can be a group of people in authority. It can also be used to describe the various levels or rankings of those within a group. Hypocrisy is essentially where you claim to believe in something and hold others accountable to that standard, yet you do not actually believe it and often don’t conform to the standard or edict you’ve imposed on others. It can also be a demonstration of fake piety or virtue.
Jesus called many religious leaders and people in authority hypocrites. (Don’t believe me? Great. Do an online search for yourself. Might I suggest starting with the gospel of Matthew, chapter 23?) Here’s a sample from it. Check this out. (Any and all Bible verses, unless otherwise indicated, are from biblegateway.com NIV, emphasis added.)
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So, you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:1-4)
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13-14)
Perhaps you’ve heard or even used the phrase, “Practice what you preach.” Spoiler alert: this is where it came from. (Sidebar: you’d be amazed how many common phrases and sayings have their origin or a root form from the Bible. Maybe there’s something to this Book after all?)
Is there a difference between hierarchy and hypocrisy?
I would say this about that: you don’t have to be in a hierarchy to be a hypocrite, but it sure helps. Let’s take the verses above as an example. Jesus had many disagreements with the religious leaders of his day. They had established an order in which they were at the top. As such they were responsible for educating and instructing the rest of the people. The problem was many let their God-given responsibility turn into a power trip. They became more and more disconnected with the very people who looked to them for help and guidance. They became an almost elitist class.
Once you separate yourself from your fellow man or woman, you are capable of doing almost anything.
Is that too bold or controversial to write? Perhaps, but is it wrong? If you begin the abhorrent process of othering a person or group, you’re well on your way to making terrible, hurtful decisions. If you see your fellow person as less than you, because they’re not: as smart as you, as wealthy as you, as whatever as you, that’s a huge red flag.
There but for the grace of God go any of us.
If you begin to believe your own hype, and not realize that there but for the grace of God go I, when you see another in a lesser state than you, watch out. If you use phrases such as, “I would never…”, be careful. I know whereof I speak. When I’ve thought myself better than someone else because of something they were doing, I learned painfully how quickly roles can reverse. A few years down the road and some poor decisions later, I was doing the very thing I’d said I’d never do and judged someone so harshly for doing.
No one is exempt.
It’s not hyperbole to state our world is in major trouble. If we step out of the divisiveness being crammed down our throats every minute, we may be able to see a bigger picture. Could it be there are those in a hierarchy, those with lots of money and power who truly believe they are better than the rest of us? Perhaps this small group of elitists have decided only they are capable of ruling and reigning. So, they keep us commoners busy with distractions and infighting as they slowly, then quickly, take over everything.
If hypocrisy is holding someone to a standard you don’t uphold yourself, are they not guilty of that times a billion? But they would never see themselves as hypocrites. Why? Because they believe in their hierarchy. They are at the top. We are at the bottom. There are two different worlds: the one they demand we exist within and the other one where they prosper and enjoy all the perks. These worlds are separate and distinct.
To say some may even harbor a God-like delusion is putting it mildly. They are so disconnected from reality, they have no fear one day the roles may reverse. They cannot imagine a situation where they won’t be in charge.
It’s safe to say many of the religious leaders of Jesus’s time had a similar comfortable outlook. They had little to no reason to believe there would ever be a challenge to their power structure. Sure, there were religious zealots and the occasional “false prophet” within their communities. Everyone was subject to powerful Roman authorities. It wasn’t an easy time for anyone. But many in the hierarchy were living far better than their countrymen. They had a firmly entrenched power and financial structure, and they were going to keep it at all costs.
Earning wealth is not a bad thing. Having a sense of entitlement is.
Those who earn their money through honest means are welcome to it. They earned it. But when a sense of entitlement, of believing because you’re so-and-so or you did such-and-such you deserve something is a problem. Your money, your degree, your whatever doesn’t make you better than someone else. Use what you’ve been given or earned wisely.
Jesus messed with the hierarchy.
You have this religious order governing the citizens. Now here comes this upstart carpenter’s son from Nazareth, a nobody, questioning and challenging their authority. At first, they figured he was just another false prophet. He’d create a little stir but soon enough his influence would wane. He’d be forgotten by the people before too long.
They were so very, very wrong.
Once they realized he was a bigger problem than they could have imagined, they were determined to get rid of him. He wasn’t afraid of them. He wasn’t intimidated by them. He saw them for who they really were: hypocrites.
Some religious leaders hated Jesus so much, they planned ways to have him killed.
For those of you who know the story, one of their plots actually came to fruition. Jesus was betrayed, arrested by the Romans, beaten to near death, and later crucified. The hierarchy must have rejoiced on that day. They put an end to this rabble rouser, this nothing. They were the ones who knew best, not this foolish man. Now things could get back to normal. The hierarchy could resume business as usual.
Except that isn’t exactly what happened now, is it?
Here we are thousands of years later, and the words of Jesus still resonate throughout the world despite the best efforts by some to stop it. Because though he willingly took up his cross and died for us, that was not the end of his story or ours.
Jesus rose from the dead on the third day and lives forevermore.
If you think about it, Jesus came from the highest hierarchy of all time. God the Father, His Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. If there was ever anyone who could rightly claim to be better or above others, it was him! Yet, he came to us in a lowly state, born in a manger. He lived a simple, modest life. He didn’t die a man of wealth, yet he rose as the King of Kings.
He came to save us. The greatest hierarchy used their power to fix the breach of sin we caused ourselves. Jesus lived as one of us to better understand humanity from the inside. What elite mind is willing to humble themselves like he did? I daresay none.
This is why they may pretend to be gods, but they will never be like God.
I wish everyone who celebrates a very Happy Easter. If you don’t know the story of Jesus and his great love for humanity, I encourage you to read it today. His story is for everyone at every time. His story is for you.
He loves you. He died and rose again for you. He’s no hypocrite.
Until next time: stay happy, stay healthy, stay in the know.
Look forward to hearing from you,