Integrity…

“… These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…” (Isaiah 29:13 NIV)

This verse is quoted by Jesus in Mark 7:6 when he is rebuking the Pharisees, those who fashioned themselves as the true guardians of God’s Law, and therefore God’s allies. Jesus accuses them of “majoring in the minors” – that is, paying too much attention to every tiny detail of religious practice, while ignoring what’s going on inside their hearts. He also accuses them of doing all this as a kind of “show” in an attempt to garner the acclaim and admiration of the common people around them. In fact, in Matthew’s version of Jesus’ rebukes (Matthew 23), he calls the Pharisees “hypocrites”.

The word “hypocrite” is derived from a Greek word which means “actor” or “stage player”. In ancient times, plays were put on in outdoor amphitheaters. In order for people far above the stage to be able to identify the different actors’ characters, the actors would employ masks. Their true identities were hidden behind these masks; hence, they were “hypokrites”, actors trying to make the audience forget who they actually were.

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about the opposite of hypocrisy: integrity. The word “integrity” means “being whole and undivided”; that is, actually being the same on the inside as one appears on the outside. No acting, no pretending. These days, when traditional Christian views about human sexuality, marriage and family – and even the value of human life and its ultimate purpose – are not only questioned, but openly mocked and denigrated, it’s easy to be tempted to be a “hypocrite”, an actor. Yet integrity calls us instead to be courageous: to be and live and speak on the outside what we say we treasure on the inside.

When we fail to live an integrated life, we begin to fracture; to crumble into pieces internally. Soon we might even be tempted to discard some of what we previously held dear, just to fit in and avoid being made fun of. We’re then not serving God; we’re serving our egos, our reputation, for we’ve made that our “god”.

Jesus calls us to something different, just as he called the Pharisees: “… first cleanse the inside… that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:26). Jesus wants me to be so in love with Him that I desire Him above the acclaim of people. That I would be open to the generous graces he wants to shower upon me, that I yearn for him to transform me from the inside out. And that I actually come to share His life in all that I do and say. Then I will be truly whole.