Taking Off the MaskJuly 3rd, 2012 by Sergio Gonzalez
Have you ever read a comic book? Chances are you may have seen a superhero movie but comic books seem to be a dying breed. I myself haven’t read one in years but as I was moving some boxes around the other day I came across my old comic book collection. I was instantly taken back to the days of my youthful love-affair with comic books. I can still remember the grainy feel of the paper in my hands, the smell of a freshly opened book, the anticipation I would get after finishing an exciting story – wondering what would happen in the next issue. My favorite comic book was “The Amazing Spiderman.” What I liked most about Spiderman was actually the man behind the mask: Peter Parker. Pete was just a regular, nerdy guy like me. He wasn’t from a far-off planet like Superman or a billionaire entrepreneur like Bruce Wayne (aka Batman). No, Pete was just a regular dude who only had his powers because of a freak accident. He worked hard as a freelance photographer in New York City, barely making enough to put himself through school and pay the rent. But whenever he put that mask on, he became Spiderman: the wise-cracking crime fighter who kept the city safe.
So why am I talking about comic books? In addition to revealing what a nerd I was as a kid, it’s to illustrate the powerful effect a mask can have. Spiderman’s mask portrayed a powerful persona: a crime-fighting hero of incredible powers. Underneath that frightening mask, however, was a good-hearted person. But the world of comic books is ultimately just a fantasy; it’s not the real world. As Jesus walked the Earth, he encountered mask-wearers that are much more common to this world. These people were the opposite of Peter Parker: they wore a mask of “purity” to conceal dark, defiled hearts.
“Hypocrite” is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. Maybe you’ve called somebody one before. Maybe somebody’s called you one. Either way, it’s a word that packs a big bite. But in Jesus’ time, the Greek word “hypokritḗs” simply meant “a stage actor.” And one thing that actors in Greek theater typically wore were – you guessed it – a mask. So whenever Jesus called someone a hypocrite – and it’s a word he used a lot in the Gospels – he was calling them out on the role they were playing. The person they were portraying to the world was not the person they were in their hearts. Jesus described them this way (quoting Isaiah),
These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
Jesus hated “mask wearing” because he so loved the very thing that masks conceal: the heart, the person you really are.
It seems we all have masks we wear: a “better version of ourselves” that we present to strangers, our coworkers, our bosses, even sometimes our friends and family. But God isn’t interested in that. He cares about the person you really are in your heart, underneath all the layers of appearances, self-deceit, and half-truths. I hear people say all the time how they can’t approach God because they feel too dirty: they’ve sinned too much, they’ve strayed too far, it’s been too long. None of that matters to God. He wants to cleanse you, draw you close, make you new. We don’t need to put on an act for him. No matter what we’ve done, he’s at the door of our hearts waiting to come in and make a permanent residence. Just imagine that concept: being one with God…
But that’s impossible if we keep covering our hearts with the mask of false appearances. It can be scary taking off that mask. Once the mask is off, the charade is over: you’ll have to face who you really are.
Give your heart to him instead. When you do, you’ll find that when you search your heart, you’ll see God.
You’ll never need another mask again.