Hypocrisy is a dangerous topic, especially in the world of religion. Any time you start talking about hypocrisy, you risk setting yourself up as the arbitrator of authenticity, which runs the risk that you will be labeled a hypocrite if you ever slip from your own definition of orthodoxy. We’ve all heard the stories of athletes that defiantly claim to be “clean,” and then sheepishly apologize when testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. And we’ve seen politicians campaigning on “family values” who are later caught practicing the very behaviors they’d previously condemned. It is one thing to fall short of the expectations you set for yourself, it’s quite another to judge others for having the same weaknesses as your own.In today’s Gospel reading Jesus invokes the words of the prophet Isaiah in describing his critics who feel that Jesus is not complying with Jewish dietary laws. “Why do you not follow the laws of Moses?” they ask. “This people worships me with their lips,” Jesus replies, “but their hearts are far from me.” That’s a very poetic way of saying that they are hypocrites. They claim to be holy and criticize those whose version of holiness differs from theirs. Now, when I hear this passage, I immediately think to myself, “Yeah, those guys are hypocrites.” But the minute I say that, am I not doing what they are doing — criticizing someone else’s behavior?The challenge for all of us is to align our hearts with our words. We all want to have that kind of integrity. It not only pleases God, it makes for a much higher quality of life. Quite the contrary, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always “practice what I preach.” Actually, I try not to preach at all. What I mean is that I don’t always live up to my expectations of myself, and I don’t always adhere to my own values. In fact, I may have more in common with the athletes and politicians caught in their own deceit; I’m just not famous enough for anyone to care.The challenge for all of us is to align our hearts with our words. We all want to have that kind of integrity. It not only pleases God, it makes for a much higher quality of life. We feel so much better when we are true to our core values and beliefs. The good news, as I often say, is that we are not called to be perfect, but to be faithful. This means that we don’t even have to pretend to be perfect. In fact, pretending to be perfect, according to Jesus, may even be worse than the failures we might be trying to conceal. It is much easier to be close to God when we acknowledge how much we need him.We are living in an era of extreme polarization, where it is quite normal to harshly judge anyone you perceive as an opponent. No one is rewarded in our current climate for trying to understand the others’ views, or to identify with them in any way. Jesus calls us to be different — to not put ourselves above others in judgment but to stand beside others in service and compassion. Bill Peatman writes from Napa. He may be reached at [email protected].