An Excerpt From Beyond the Masquerade: Being Genuine in an Artificial World
What are other people really like in the privacy of their own homes – or on a deserted island – or in a restaurant wooing their potential mate? Someone must have set out to answer those questions when they created reality TV. Coined “fly-on-the-wall TV,” reality TV supposedly delivers the best and worst of real people to viewers as if they were flies on the wall. They see ordinary people do wacky, embarrassing, cruel or even dangerous things we would not usually see or hear.
However, it’s ironic that in reality TV producers often manipulate scripts, fabricate environments and alter the sequence of events to fit their filming schedule and production standards. As Ray Richmond, former TV critic for the Hollywood Reporter, says: “What they are doing on these shows is taking a kernel of fact and using it to construct a multi-pronged piece of fiction in the guise of truth and actuality. This makes for a product that’s not only mislabeled but disingenuous and deceptive.” 1
Do millions of viewers of reality TV know that things are not exactly as they seem? Do they care? What really seems to matter is that they are being entertained. The producers are doing whatever it takes to put on a show. To them, putting on a show is what it’s all about.
The Greeks Started It
About 2,000 years ago, the ancient Greeks knew how to put on a show too. Although their productions were different from ours today, they were no less entertaining to the crowds that flooded into the tiers of seats on the hillside theaters to watch the stage below.
An actor would wear a mask made of linen or wood that he could slip on and off easily. The mask’s features were exaggerated so the emotions portrayed could be seen to the far seats up in the theater. The actor would come out wearing a smiling mask to say a funny monologue. The audience might roar with laughter as they watched him rushing off to don a frowning mask. He would “answer back” with his solemn lines in the next tragic scene.
This actor was called hupokrites, the Greek word meaning “one who answers.” Look slightly familiar? It is the word from which we derive our word “hypocrite.” This did not start out as a derogatory term, but it evolved from meaning an “actor” to a “pretender” or “one who acts a part, one who wears a mask to cover his true feelings, one who puts on an external show while inwardly his thoughts and feelings are very different.” 2
Understanding the original definition of “hypocrite” makes it easy to see how Jesus in Matthew 23 used that term over and over to describe some of the Pharisees who acted “holier than thou” rather than holy. The term perfectly described these spiritual charlatans who acted out their religious parts in front of the crowds.
The Pharisees put on a great show too! In fact, watching them might have provided some comic relief to the onlookers of Jesus’ time. The religious exercises that many in this devout sect underwent daily must have been quite a spectacle. They paraded their righteousness as a grand production for others to see.
For example, picture a grown man walking around bruised and bleeding from bumping into buildings and doorposts. He had a special reason for being battered. His eyes were closed. Why? He didn’t want to see any women. No self-respecting orthodox Pharisee would talk to a woman – not even his wife or sister – in public. These devout law-keepers took it a step further and refused to even look at these creatures of such a seemingly low status. Their wounds from bumping into things became their badge of piety!
The Jews called these particular Pharisees “Bruised” or “Bleeding” or “Self-Afflicting Pharisees.” This group was one of seven different types the Jews wrote about at a much later date in the Talmud, their book of Jewish traditions. In it, they described the various subgroups of the Pharisees. Six out of seven subgroups were not complimentary. 3
In all fairness, there were God-fearing Pharisees who truly loved God and wanted to serve Him. The Talmud had good words for this faithful kind of Pharisee, but not the others.
Take for example, the “Hump-Backed” or “Pestle and Mortar Pharisee,” also called the “Tumbling Pharisee.” These stooped-over men whose bodies resembled a humpback shape, lowered their gaze and bent over to advertise their humility. The tumbling came from tripping over any obstacle as they scooted along without lifting their feet from the ground. What a ridiculous spectacle they must have made when they shuffled and tumbled along!
Then there was the “Shoulder Pharisee,” who observed the Law in meticulous detail but whose good deeds were for show and worn on his shoulder. Or take the “Wait-a-Little Pharisee,” who followed the Law but seemed to always think of an excuse for putting off something that needed to be done. There was also the “Ever-Reckoning” or “Compounding Pharisee,” who counted up his good deeds as if they were money. The more good deeds he accumulated, the more he felt God was in his debt. Religion was a matter of how much God owed him. The “Timid” or “Fearing Pharisee” was in terror of divine punishment and lived his life in order to escape judgment at all costs. 4
Just seeing those ridiculous Pharisees – bleeding, tumbling or counting – might have been humorous if it had not been so terribly sad. This sect was bound by its legalism and entrapped by its traditions. Their theatrics did not fool Jesus. He called the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees “blind guides,” “blind fools” and “blind men” (Matthew 23:16-17, 19 niv84). Jesus had seen enough of their fake religion to level a scathing rebuke at their say-one-thing-and-do-another lifestyles. He succinctly described them: “Everything they do is done for men to see” (v. 5). Their masks of hypocrisy had in turn blinded them.
Their blindness obstructed for them what Jesus could clearly see. The Pharisees, the leading religious leaders of their day, were living the masquerade because they ultimately were living a lie. Who better to lead this masquerade than “the father of lies,” the devil (John 8:44)? Paul, in speaking of deceitful characters, penned: “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).
Not the Only Ones
The Pharisees did not have a monopoly on wearing spiritual masks of hypocrisy. There are other examples in the Bible of people who wanted to put on a show to look good before others.
The prophets of the Old Testament railed against the hypocrisy of God’s people in putting on a religious show. Isaiah preached against Judah’s meaningless oaths in the name of the Lord; their fasting, which had become a mockery; and their “holier than thou” attitudes (Isaiah 48:1-2; 58:3-8; 65:1-5). Jeremiah chastised Judah for claiming to worship God in the temple while they committed murder, theft, adultery and perjury (Jeremiah 7:9-11). Ezekiel condemned the nation of Israel for not practicing what they supposedly believed (Ezekiel 33:31).
In the New Testament, Ananias and Sapphira claimed they had brought all the money they had received from the sale of their property to the apostles, but it was only a portion of the price (Acts 5:1-11). Peter upbraided them for their hypocrisy, and the Lord struck them dead.
Later, Peter himself was described as a hypocrite. In Antioch, Peter initially ate meals with Gentiles but later refused their fellowship when Jewish Christians arrived. Others, including Barnabas, were led astray by his hypocrisy. Paul rebuked Peter to his face in front of the group. Peter was afraid of what his Jewish brothers would think of him instead of doing what he knew was right. In his heart, he knew that Gentile and Jewish Christians had full fellowship with one another, but at the time it seemed more important to impress the Judaizers (Galatians 2:11-14).
No doubt Peter learned a valuable lesson from this encounter in Antioch. Later, he wrote Christians in Asia Minor, where Jewish and Gentile Christians lived, worked and worshiped together. How were these former enemies to treat one another? He exhorted these fellow Christians to be genuine in their love, not hypocritical. He wrote, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). The Greek term for “sincere” that Peter used meant “without hypocrisy or pretense,” but it originally meant “inexperienced in the art of acting.” In this particular instance, it was good to be a rookie actor! 5
What Does It Mean to Be Genuine?
What is this sincerity or genuineness that Peter urged us to strive for? Maybe words like “real,” “authentic,” “true” and “unaffected” come to mind. To be genuine means to be truly who we are without hiding behind any masks. We speak from the heart. We act with integrity. We express how we think and feel without devaluing the feelings and opinions of others.
However, being genuine is not necessarily doing what comes naturally. It is not raw exposure of our innermost being to everyone. It is not impulsively dumping our “hit and run” reactions on people.
Living an authentic and genuine life means that when we ask someone how she is, we care and really want to know. It means that we look into people’s eyes when they talk to us, and we actually listen. It means we try to serve with a sincere desire to help instead of being driven by guilt or compulsion.
We have to admit that sometimes it can be risky to be genuine. It takes courage to act according to our beliefs and defy the crowd. It can be scary to tell how we feel and what we think to others. They might disagree or think we are stupid. They might reject us, argue with us, laugh in our faces, or gossip about us behind our backs.
However, living a sham can be even more difficult. People rarely wear masks for very long without their pretense showing. As American author Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote, “No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.” If we live a lie, eventually others will see that we are just putting on a show, and they could possibly reject us anyway – the very thing we were trying to avoid!
The benefits of being genuine far outweigh the risks. When we stop worrying about what other people think, we can enjoy a new freedom. We can acknowledge the One we are really trying to please. We will learn that being honest does not always damage our relationships with others but often enhances and strengthens them. Other people will feel they can trust us. We will be Christian women of integrity. There will be no disconnect between what we do and say and who we are. We can be true to ourselves and to God. We can cancel the show of pretense and move beyond the masquerade. How liberating that will be! o
Nancy Eichman has written several books for ladies Bible classes including longtime bestseller Seasoning Your Words. She lives in Columbia, S.C., with her husband Phillip. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Michael Ventre, “Just How Real Are Reality TV Shows?” NBCNEWS.com, 14 Apr. 2009 <http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/30092600/ns/today-entertainment/t/just-how-real-are-reality-tv-shows/#.TwnxexzZh0g>.
2 William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 2 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975) 288.
3 F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977) 49.
4 Barclay 283-84.
5 Spiros Zodhiates, ed., The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga: AMG, 1992) 197.