The skill of Tommy Lee
Harriet and I watched a Tommy Lee Jones western the other night, The Missing, a thriller about Tommy Lee's character tracking the vicious medicine man who had kidnapped his granddaughter. It made me think of his skill as an actor, the convincing way he has portrayed such a wide variety of roles. Whether in The Fugitive, Lonesome Dove, No Country for Old Men, Men in Black, Lincoln, Space Cowboys, or Rules of Engagement, just to mention a few, he's given critically acclaimed performances that have placed one Oscar and hundreds of awards on his mantle. Like so many other Hollywood types, he's a professional at playing a role.
In the ancient Greek world he may have been labeled a hupokrites, the word used to describe people of the stage. It literally means "under judging", that is, to discern what words to say under the mask. Greek theater involved wearing masks as visuals for three basic dramatic genres---tragedy, comedy, and satire. The actors were highly respected artisans skilled in framing the right words, phrasing, and inflection to fulfill the desires of the writer. In that world it wasn't a negative term. Like Tommy Lee Jones those actors possessed talent to play roles. They were convincing.
Today hypocrite isn't an honored concept. In fact, if you want to witness fire in another person's eyes then call them a hypocrite. It is offensive and usually ignites negative responses in people. To call someone a hypocrite is to express a judgment about them, to have measured some aspect of their life under your criteria and found them two-faced, or wearing a mask. As a result, we're careful with the word, maybe thinking it more often than speaking it.
The Synoptic Gospel writers indicate the use of hupokrites in the teaching of Jesus eighteen times. Evidently, by the time Jesus taught the term had been more commonly used as a critical assessment of spiritual behaviors and the motives behind them. In most instances Jesus reserved his use of hupokrites to specifically identify and critique the scribes and Pharisees, Jewish legalists whose integrity was usually suspect. He taught his disciples spiritual depth beyond mere show. They were instructed to love God deeply and sincerely, and to evidence that love in all of the areas of their life.
There are two things about hupokrites that have been on my mind lately.
1. Nones broadly use the term to characterize people of faith.
Nones are the growing number of unaffiliated individuals among the US
population. Millennials are the fastest growing group of nones. They're
primarily two groups: unbelievers and people with no religious attachment. Of
course, the unbelievers are blinded to truth and cannot even accurately define
hupokrites. The unaffiliated have often had negative church experiences and
therefore categorize everyone as a hupokrites. But, there is the challenge for
believers to live authentic lives. Our witness must be as genuine as flawed
saved by grace humans can live it.
2. Like Tommy Lee, many have become adept at playing roles.
Suddenly the Pew Researchers and other demographers have mentioned new
categories to the schizophrenic Christian profile in America. We are now
classified as "nominals" and "convictional Christians", those loosely involved in
a spiritual life and those who sincerely seek to live the precepts of Christianity.
All of the confusion replying to survey and research questions indicates a
growing number of people who are playing roles well. Nominal Christian seems
a paradoxical concept to me.
What are the identifiers of genuine faith? The presence and conviction of the Holy Spirit? Spiritual fruit? Love for the bride of Christ, his church? Obedience to his word? A life of confession and repentance? Joy and peace in life? And, a Bible full of others? It is important however, especially in these complex times, that we're not just adept at playing roles and are not merely talented to act in roles like Tommy Lee.
Paul challenged the Corinthians with these words---
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do
you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed
you fail to meet the test!
2 Corinthians 13:5, ESV
You know it. The skill of Tommy Lee might get some recognition. But, not the crown of righteousness he has reserved for those who love his appearing.