Hypocrites in the morning twilight



It’s that time of year. New Year’s resolutions have fallen to the wayside in many cases, have been admirably retained by others; and procrastinators have finally decided whether they’re going to make resolutions.

This column is neither about keeping resolutions nor neglecting them. Rather, this column is about a posture of humility when faced with others’ imperfections. Let us be more loving.

According to common wisdom, nobody likes a hypocrite. Integrity of life is regarded as one of the highest goods across boundaries of religion, politics and ideology. It is a standard we esteem, but we are hard-pressed to uphold it in our own lives. New Year’s resolutions are a publicly accepted example of hypocrisy. No one calls them such; instead, everyone jokes about the short lifespan of said resolutions.

But in any other category of life, such profession of intention and failure of execution would provoke serious suspicion of a person’s moral character. We would question everything else the person said or did, and not consider their advice as valuable. It is the frustration of a patient whose obese doctor strongly recommends that he or she go on a diet.

According to common practice, everybody is a hypocrite.

I do not excuse hypocrisy or degrade the value of integrity. I could never! Years ago, integrity was my catchword; I aspired to be a person of integrity above all else in middle and high school. I do ask, though, that we look at the situation with new eyes, with the eyes of the Gospel. Perhaps we should not decry hypocrites so harshly.

In the Gospel of John, Nicodemus comes at night to Jesus and seeks his teaching and truth. However, Nicodemus seems to be tentative and does not commit entirely to following Jesus. He is later seen among the Jewish leaders, where they question his loyalty as if for the first time. But in the end, Nicodemus helps bury Jesus, bringing 100 pounds of myrrh and mixed spices to anoint his body. When practically everyone else leaves, Nicodemus helps Mary and Joseph of Arimathea lay Jesus to rest.

Nicodemus problematizes the classic black-and-white picture of discipleship and salvation in John. He lives in the gray morning twilight, showing the reader that even he who puts on appearances with the authorities harbors a great love for Jesus in his heart, and he demonstrates that love in a moment of dire need. The reader cannot be sure of Nicodemus’s salvation, but he can hope—and it is just the same for each of us.

Human hearts are not ours to judge. They are God’s.

Perhaps, next time we face the temptation to denounce someone as a hypocrite and discount their other words and actions, we should see such Nicodemean figures with a little more sympathy. We should see the Nicodemus in ourselves and strive to be more faithful and forgiving.

Yes, integrity is a great virtue. But charity is the greatest.