One of my great secrets as an Anglican priest, well maybe I think it’s a secret, is that I’m still learning a lot about the whys of what we do in an on different liturgical seasons! So, each season there’s often something new for me to learn just in time to pass it on to our church! Shrove Tuesday is another one of those little gems that I’m learning about just in time to celebrate it! For those of you who are closet church calendar dummies and also wonder what the heck Shrove Tuesday is but can’t ask because you are a student at Nashotah House, let me tell you what I found out.
Shrove Tuesday is a day set apart for self-examination and confession. It’s a day we are invited to set aside for examination and confession. To shrive can mean, “to administer the sacrament of reconciliation”, or it can mean, “to be free from guilt”. Shrove Tuesday is the day on which we are shriven in preparation for the Great Lent.
Of course, there are many areas in our life where we know what we need forgiveness for and Shrove Tuesday and lent are both invitations to come to terms with those elements of our brokenness. But we also need to be reminded that we don’t do self-examination to find out the things we already know need to be forgiven. We practice self-examination for the purpose of having the Holy Spirit bring to mind those areas that we aren’t aware of that need to be forgiven. Some of those things that the spirit may reveal is that we are doing the right things for the wrong reasons. Our Gospel reading reminds that it is possible to be so passionate about our beliefs and practices that even when the thing or person we believe in so deeply in is right in front us, we can’t see it or them.
In this mornings Gospel, we are given some Markan insight into what Jesus was thinking when these Herodians and Pharisees were asking questions about taxes. Mark says; “knowing their hypocrisy he said to them.”
Hypocrisy. It is a disguise, a mask, and its foundational intent is to deceive. The latin word for Hypocrit is translated ‘simulator’. When we have hypocritical areas in our life we are simulating, the way we are supposed to act and the things we are suppose to say. St Gregory rights: hypocrites make God’s interests subservient to worldly purposes, since by making a show of saintly conduct they seek, not to turn men to God, but to draw to themselves the applause of their approval.
These challengers were simulating, they were pretending, they were feigning interest in what Jesus really had to say. They made true statements in their preface to the question. As they stated, Jesus is truth. Jesus does not care about anyone’s opinions but the Fathers and He is not swayed by appearances. But they used these truths to try to trap God. These Pharisees and Herodians were more in love with their power and their idea of who God was that when He stood in front of them they could not recognize him. Their life of Holy pretending made it impossible for them to see the Holy God. And according to Mark, Jesus was aware of their hypocrisy.
Jesus is aware of our hypocrisy. Jesus is aware of my hypocrisy. Jesus is aware of your hypocrisy. We are the only people who are surprised by our hypocrisy. This hypocrisy does not benefit us or the people around us and our simulations of holiness, truth, and love do not sway God. He is not honored by our outward actions that give appearance of a rich inner life. He knows how often we are really motivated by the good standing of those around us. The eyes of our parishioners, families, and friends, other churches.
For a time that approval seems to be enough, but in the end the hypocrisy hurts us because it allows us to continue on thinking that all is well when in fact we are being formed into the image of the people whose favor we are trying to gain through our behavior. Hypocrisy can lull us into a false security and it prevents any opportunity for sanctification. It is a mask that hides our true condition, and oftentimes it is a mask we don’t even know that we are wearing.
As a priest, there is always a temptation towards hypocrisy. There is always a voice in my head saying; “if they really knew who you I was they wouldn’t be at this church.” There is a constant temptation to do the right and holy thing in order to appease them to come back the following week. It is that thinking motivated by a fear of man that leads us down the path of hypocrisy because then we begin to become people, as Gregory wrote, who are “aspiring for the applause of their approval”.
Hypocrisy lives in all of us. As you reflect this day in preparation for lent, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you any areas of your life that have turned into play acting. Areas that give the appearance of holiness but are really motivated by human approval. And as you come face to face with those areas, remember that we are invited to confess our hypocrisy and sin not so that we would be condemned but so that we would be forgiven.
We come boldly into Lent knowing that the way of the cross is the only way we get to the resurrection. So, please don’t find yourself making short shrift with shrove Tuesday.
The Rev. Tony Bleything
Tony and Sarah Bleything have been married for nearly ten years. They have a growing family of six. They have four children: Elliott (6), Evelyn (4), and Amelia (2) and Owen (1).
The Bleythings have been living in the Milwaukee area for the better part of 8 years. They took leave from the city to pursue graduate degrees (Tony – Master of Divinity, Sarah – Physician Assistant Studies). It was during Tony’s second year of seminary that the couple received a very strong word from the Lord to return to Milwaukee. Ministry in the city of Milwaukee has been at the center of their thoughts and dreams ever since. Fr. Bleything is Director of Distributed Learning and Educational Technology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary. For more about the Bleythings and their ministry, please visit: http://www.theholyordinary.com/about-us/