A non-churchgoer once said to a priest: "I don’t go to church because there are too many hypocrites." To which the priest said, "That’s okay, there’s always room for one more."
We encountered hypocrites in today’s gospel. They were the religious leaders Jesus challenged because they told the people to do things that they themselves did not do.
But in a sense, the label of hypocrite can be applied to all of us. We don’t always practice what we preach; we don’t always live in a manner consistent with the faith we profess. This not only harms our relationship with God; it can harm other peoples relationship with God too. They can see the way we act, and it can put them off God and religion.
Not long before I was to leave for seminary at age 22, I went out for the evening with some old college friends. I was carousing a little too enthusiastically, I think, when one friend turned to me and said, "Some priest you are." She meant it in jest, but it was a fair comment, and it cut me to the heart. I’ve never forgotten it.
Each one of us is a public representative of Jesus. Which means that people will evaluate Jesus, to a certain degree, based on their evaluation of us. That’s why today’s gospel challenges us to live a way of life consistent with the gospel, so that others won’t be turned off from the gospel way of life.
(My book of daily meditations for Lent, to be published by Ave Maria Press in November, is available for pre-order: http://www.amazon.com/Daily-Devotions-Lent-Living-Gospel/dp/1594713634/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335995419&sr=8-1 )