Most people tend to think that Jesus doesn’t like authority and that he came to take down the authority of traditional religion. After all look how Jesus treated the Jewish authority of the day – the Pharisees and Scribes. But, let’s look closer at what is going on here in order to see what Jesus is doing. We can easily see that Jesus respects authority. He honors the authority of His Father through complete obedience. His entire life and ministry were orchestrated by His Father and that Jesus was careful to carry out every detail according to the will of His Father (see Hebrews 10:7, John 14:31).
All that Jesus did and said was exactly what His Father wanted Him to do and say. “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak” (John 12:49). Also, as the author of Hebrews tells us directly. “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).
So, Jesus being obedient to the Father implies he follows authority. Now, if you don’t like the word authority – feel free to replace it with the word guide (see how clever marketing is). Therefore, Jesus respects His Father’s authority and later we see he passes on this authority to the apostles (see John 20:21, 17:18, Matthew 28:18-20). So, now we see authority (or guide) on the surface is a good thing. Every parent that tells their children to “do this” or “don’t do this” is exercising authority. Even the current pop culture’s idea to “take down authority” is itself expressing authority. When the pop culture chants down with authority, it is using authority to say “down with authority.” So, like it or not, people can’t avoid the concept of authority. The next question is what authority (or guide) are you going to follow?
You have two simple choices; the authority of God or the authority of man. What irked Jesus the most is when people chose the authority of men. It’s not like Jesus hated the authority of the Jewish leaders – the Scribes and the Pharisees. He respected them. We see this when he says, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat so practice and observe whatever they tell you.” So, he respects their teaching authority because it was passed down from Moses. However, he then went on to say this: “but not what they do; for they preach but do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3). Jesus first says, listen to what the Pharisees tell you. Then, he says, but don’t do what they do. Well, the Pharisees have the right authority because they received it from Moses. However, they don’t use this authority correctly. In other words, they have good teaching, but they can’t live up to that teaching. Now, there is nothing wrong with this so far. This is simply teaching to live up to a high bar and not hitting that high bar. Where Jesus really goes off on these Pharisees is that the Pharisees think they are hitting that high bar. The Pharisees teach perfection (a good thing), but then the Pharisees think they are perfect (bad thing because it’s not true).
So, what irks Jesus the most is not authority, but thinking that your authority makes you perfect. What else did Jesus call the so-called perfect Pharisees? He called them hypocrites, blind guides, and white washed tombs (see Matthew 23: 13,15,16, 27). Boy, he didn’t think too highly of the Pharisees. To understand why we have to understand that in the ancient world, hypocrites were associated with actors. The actor wore a fake mask and pretended they were someone other than themselves. The word hypocrite comes from the Latin word hypocrita – which means a stage actor. Therefore, Jesus is saying that the Pharisees appear to be perfect, but this is just an acting job as they (and everyone else) are not perfect as they are bound by human sin. This fake acting idea makes sense as Jesus then uses the phrase “white wash tomb” to describe the Pharisees. Well, a white wash tomb on the outside looks nice and shiny but open up the inside, and it is a tomb – ugly and full of death.
Now, when we understand this, it should begin to settle in that acting like you are perfect is the main problem. So, the acting job that we have no sin is the real issue Jesus is getting at. I can think of no other church in the world that forces us to stop the “we are perfect” acting job than the Catholic Church. If you are going to take Catholicism seriously, you need to admit you are acting. There is no more real version of the rubber meeting the road than the Sacrament of Confession. Once I first read a full examination of conscience before confession, I realized this Church makes you know, and sincerely acknowledge, you are acting more than any other Church. Interestingly, most people want to say they are sinners so as to appear they are good and humble to others. Simply saying it is nothing more than continuing the fake acting job. Catholicism calls our bluff on this. Catholicism says, “okay you are a sinner, so let’s go to Confession and try to fix this.” Then, that is when people try to dodge being a sinner and try to come up with lame excuses why Confession is not necessary. In other words, when the solution of their sins comes up, they continue the bad acting job.
Therefore, the question is, are we acting like we are sinners or are we really sinners? I remember when I was a kid, and I acted like I was sick in order to miss school. My smart mother saw right through this and knew I was faking sick. My mom suggested we make a doctor’s appointment. Boy, this freaked me out. Well, our mother – the Church also sees right through our acting job by suggesting Confession. Just like my mother suggesting a doctor’s appointment freaked me out, because it called out my bluff, so to does Mother Church’s confessional appointment freak us out, because it calls out our fake acting. There is actually good scientific data that show people perform this internal acting job. In her book, A Mind of its Own, psychologist Cordella Fine shows how people frequently manipulate their thoughts so as to showcase a better version of themselves than what is really there.
St. Augustine famously said, “The church is not a museum of saints. It is a hospital of sinners.” A lot of evangelicals will come up to me and say there are so many bad people and bad priests in the Catholic Church that it can’t be the church Jesus established. These people are missing the whole point. If Jesus said he was a doctor that came for the sick (Mark 2:17), we can expect that his church has sinners in it just like we can expect a hospital has sick people in it. When people say there are so many sinful people in the Church, their sentence ends up turning into a boomerang that comes right back at them. Their idea would be like going into a hospital and saying there are so many sick people in the hospital. Then a sick patient comes up to them and says, “Yes there are a lot of sick people here, which is why we are here. And get in line, because you are one of them.” Now, the sick patient, who knows they are sick, is one of the best people to diagnose the sick person who doesn’t know they are sick. Why? Because you can’t out fake a faker. When my son tries to fake sick, I can see right through him – because I used to do what he is doing now.
Now, I ask in this scenario, who fits the role of the Pharisee more? The sick person in the hospital is not likely to fit the acting role of the Pharisees. The sick person knows they are sick. Obviously, they know they are sick because you don’t go to a hospital until you really acknowledge you are sick. But the person who comes into the hospital to point out all the sick people probably thinks they aren’t sick. Why would they be so concerned with everyone else’s sickness and want to take down a hospital for the sick? Their idea implies that they aren’t sick – and perhaps think they are even perfect. Who is the real actor in this scenario?
Jesus wants us to stop the acting game – be real, don’t be phony. If you are going to be a real Catholic, at some point, you are going to have to stop the acting game. Once you stop the acting game, God can better show you who you really are. Once the actor leaves, the real you shows up. The real you is much better than the fake you.