Of Masks and Men – by Eugene Higgins

Baby boomers, particularly in the US, grew up reading the Lone Ranger novels by Fran Striker. Later, when the stories were adapted for radio, the thrilling strains of the William Tell Overture announced another 20 minutes or so of character-building heroism, altruism, and morality. From out of the past came the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse “Silver,” and suddenly the masked rider of the plains, the Lone Ranger, was riding again. Unlike outlaws, he wore a mask to hide his identity and to protect himself as he rescued people from cruel and unprincipled bad guys. Each story had a moment at the end when dazed and grateful people – people whom he had delivered – asked with mingled confusion and wonder, “Who was that masked man?” This question was asked, of course, because seeing masked “good guys” in public was as rare as is a prayerful, God-fearing atheist.

There’s no point asking that question today! In fact, it is the person not wearing a mask who is likely to generate questions, earn angry stares, and incur a fine or arrest. One result of the Wuhan virus is that many nimble-fingered seamstresses and clumsy males, having watched “how-to” online videos, are beavering away at making homemade masks for spouses and children. Some are colorful; some are kaleidoscopic; some are drab; some are dreadful. (Insider information: if you are searching for somewhere to invest the paltry few dollars you’ll have left when all this ends, you should anticipate a cottage industry springing up around this product.)

The topic of “masks” presents to us one of those delightfully colorful Greek words that dot the landscape of the Greek New Testament – and Greek is an exceptionally colorful language. In the preface to his book, “Synonyms of the New Testament,” the scholarly R. C. Trench wrote, “Greek—a language spoken by a people of the subtlest intellect; who saw distinctions, where others saw none; who divided out to different words what others often were content to huddle confusedly under a common term…” So, a language that used words with great precision, and had a plethora from which to choose, selected this word – “hupokritēs” – to describe “hypocrites.” And what makes the word so pictorially perfect is that it comes from the stage and the actors’ wearing of masks.

The Bible has much to say about hypocrites and hypocrisy, and none of it is good. In the Old Testament, parallels are drawn between:

  • The hypocrite and the wicked, “The triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment?” (Job 20:5)
  • The hypocrite and sinners, “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites” (Isa 33:14).

In the New Testament, three times at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord Jesus exhorts His disciples to avoid hypocrisy with these words: “not as the hypocrites,” ( Matthew 6:2, 5, 16). He instructs, “Be not ye therefore like unto them.” Near the end of Matthew’s account, He excoriates the hypocrites seven times with the repeated phrase, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites …”

What is there so reprehensible about hypocrisy – mask-wearing in the moral realm – that causes the Lord Jesus to so stridently condemn it and so strongly counsel its avoidance? There is something deeply significant about the Savior’s thrice-repeated words, “They have their reward.” It tells us that the hypocrite loses sight of God; he forgets about God and makes it his goal to garner the approval, praise, and esteem of others, without a moment’s thought to pleasing God. His vision is limited, earth-bound, shortsighted. He is “play-acting” on a pathetically small stage, and adjusts his behavior to match whatever will most please his “audience” and win its applause.

In contrast, the Lord Jesus lived every moment under the eye of God; He delighted to do the will of God. Who else could say, “He that sent Me is with Me: the Father hath not left Me alone; for I do always those things that please Him”? (John 8:29). “Always!” Not a moment of displeasure! Not a moment of disobedience! Not a moment of discord or dissonance! Always! – like the continual burnt offering. The whole of His life was lived for God’s pleasure. All of us, however long saved, have mourned over “the plague of our own heart.” When we think of a life of unbroken, uninterrupted, unparalleled fellowship with God, we can only stand in awe and bow in worship. Perhaps this is the “hidden manna” that God’s people will enjoy in His presence forever.

To a lesser degree, (obviously), think of the Apostle Paul and his words: “Do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10). “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, Which trieth our hearts” (1 Th 2:4). “Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of (well-pleasing to) Him” (2 Cor 5:9).

Centuries ago, when Daniel’s enemies examined his life under a microscope, they could find nothing against him “concerning the kingdom” and could only hope to find something against him “concerning the law of his God.” Words that describe him have become all too familiar in our experience in 2020: he was “isolated” from the congregation of the Lord, unable to worship “publicly” in the way God’s Word directed, and was immured in a pagan palace far from Israel. But distance from Jerusalem made no difference to this Jew. Daniel knew that nothing had changed the Divinely-revealed principles by which he was called to live and guide his life. Whether politically, (“concerning the kingdom”), or personally, (“concerning the law of his God”), he was as transparent and “open” as were his windows.

Those who knew the late beloved brother Frank Tornaquindici will recall his frequently telling of the time the school called his father. Frank and his brother Nick had skipped school “on occasion,” and the truant officer called to report that they were “truant.” The Italian-speaking Mr. T. knew many English words, but “truant” was not one of them. When he hung up the phone, he authoritatively summoned Frank and Nick and, based on what he had been able to decipher from the truant officer, told them with great pleasure that the school had called and informed him that they were “true boys.” This, he said was good. “Be true,” he told them. “Always be true.” (Frank and Nick did not give their father any English lessons that day). 

The opposite of true is false. A synonym of “false” is hypocritical. So here is wonderful advice – “Be true; always be true.” The Puritan preach Cotton Mather, when out in public, would often express a prayer to God based on someone he saw or met. If it were a tall man, he would pray, “Make that man a giant in Thy things.” If he saw someone particularly strong, he might pray, “Lord, make me strong for Thee.” Next time you see someone with a mask, ask God to keep you from ever wearing a mask on your soul. Pompous, pretentious, Pecksniffian hypocrisy ill becomes a follower of the One Who is Truth incarnate. Old Mr. T had it right – “Be true; always be true.” 

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