Fraudulent Forks and Pretending People

Nor do I judge according to the look of man: for man seeth those things that appear; but the Lord beholdeth the heart.

–1 Samuel 16:7–

Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you are like whited sepulchers, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness.  So you also outwardly appear just to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

–Matthew 23:27-28–

            Not long ago I was attending a somewhat formal dinner reception.  As I was going through the buffet line, I picked up a fork, and immediately I was filled with a sense of disgust and maybe a little anger too.  You see, the fork looked as though it were made of metal.  It was nice and shiny.  Yet the moment I touched it, I realized it was nothing but plastic.   I felt foolish and deceived.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t mind using plastic eating utensils.  I have no problem with plastic forks that appear to be so.  Forks that are made of white, clear, or colored plastic are at least honest.  They are what they appear to be.  The fork at the reception, however, was a fraud.  It appeared to be one thing but turned out to be something else.  It wore the guise of metal but was only plastic.

            Jesus also denounced hypocrisy.  Our Lord, however, spoke out, not against fraudulent forks, but against pretending people.  His message is clear.  If we wish to be pleasing to God, we must not only look good on the outside, but we must be good on the inside.  We must not only appear to be virtuous, but we must truly live virtuously.

            Here are some questions I can ask myself to see if I pass the test of authenticity.  If the answer to any of these questions is YES, I am not much better than a plastic fork wearing the outward appearance of metal.   I may need some internal transformation.

            If someone were to steal my cell phone, iPad, or laptop, could I be embarrassed about what the thief might learn about me?  Do I enjoy talking about people behind their backs, especially in a negative way?  Do I often tell myself, “No one will know”?  Do I keep friends separate from one another because I dread the thought of them sharing information about me?  Are my friends reluctant to criticize me to my face because they are uncertain as to which face to address?  Do I have relationships about which I do not want others to know?  Does the kind of language I use (“colorful” versus decent) vary depending on the people to whom I am speaking?  Does the phrase “tax audit” send chills up my spine?  Do I possess objects and documents that I do not wish my loved ones to see?  Am I uncomfortable with the fact that prospective employers will do a thorough internet search on me?  Are the items I post on Facebook or the messages I tweet the sort of material I wouldn’t want my grandmother to view?  Do I sneak off to places in the hope that no one will discover my whereabouts?  Do I find it next to impossible to keep secrets?  Do I engage in certain behaviors when I think no one is looking?  Do I praise my priest’s homily to his face and then criticize it at the dinner table?

            Let me further drive home the point by reading a poem written by one of my former students, a perceptive young man named Curtis Walton.  I have these verses hanging in my office.  The poem is called The Gilder’s Heart.  A gilder, of course, is a craftsman skilled in putting a thin veneer of gold plating over a less valuable substance to make it look better.

The Gilder’s Heart[1]

–Curtis Walton–

In a quiet town, in a quiet state,

In the low lands, near a stream,

Stood a gilder’s store

That is now no more,

But once was a poet’s dream.

For the gilder made a golden heart

For her whom he would truly love,

Along with golden shoes

Laced with browns and blues

And a diadem shaped like a dove.

And all he wished was to be loved

By her and her alone,

So he dared not e’er reveal to her

That these gifts were only stone.

He wished to give her gifts of gold,

Not rock, but riches high,

And made her gifts most beautiful

If only to the eye.

One day, howe’er, she ran away

With the mason of the town,

For love is not a surface thing,

But a choice that goes deep down.

And he cried to God wherefore she went,

And this was His reply:

Give of yourself; give of your heart;

But do not give a lie.

            You get the picture.  Our Lord—our Lover–wants us, not only to appear to be good, but to really be good.    That is why He gives us the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion.  Frequent Confession and worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist, along with prayer and good works, are the best means I know to bring about inner transformation.

            If you drop a plastic fork, what is the result?  The sound of something flimsy.  If you drop a metal fork, what do you hear?  The ringing sound of authenticity.  It is like that with people. When dishonest individuals fall, their fraudulent characters are revealed.  When honest folk suffer, their characters ring true.

[1] Slightly altered.