For residents of Chicago and Illinois, headline stories of corrupt politicians and public employees are old hat. When four of the last seven governors of your state of residence have been convicted and served time, you become a little jaded. An Illinoisan for most of my life, my allotment of surprise was used up long ago. I mean, how can you top former Governor Paul Powell who died in 1970 and left $800,000 in shoeboxes in his hotel apartment closet? A cynical and sarcastic roll of the eyes seems most appropriate now.
So I surprised myself when the news stories of the misuse of $750,000 of campaign funds for spurious and wasteful purchases by Jesse Jackson, Jr., a congressional representative, and wife Sandi, former 7th ward Chicago alderman, piqued my interest and held it. Jesse’s star was publicly tarnished when prosecutors in the corruption case against currently-imprisoned, former-governor Rod Blagojevich accused Jackson of trying to buy Obama’s senate seat in 2008. Jackson continues to deny the allegations that he offered $6 million for that position and chair.
In late February Jackson and his wife did plead guilty to purchases where receipts were issued. Buying sprees included spending $7,058 for mounted elk heads, $43, 350 for a gold-plated Rolex, and $26,347 to renovate their home in Washington, D.C. Now they are awaiting sentencing in June 2013.
What sticks in my craw more than the deceit and the lying is the hypocrisy. Twelve years ago Jesse Jackson, Jr., and his famous father, Jesse Jackson, published a book entitled, It’s About the Money!: The fourth movement of the Freedom Symphony: How to Build Wealth, Get Access to Capital and Achieve Your Financial Dreams. Junior needed to pull that one off the shelf and heed his own advice, unless “with Mary Gotschall” was the author with the financial smarts.
I have not read the book, but John Kass in his Chicago Tribune column of February 21, 2013 shared nuggets including, “Don’t spend money just for pleasure; use it to build wealth and, in so doing, acquire power to manage and control your life”. And another, “Living above your means is financial sin”. Jackson did not walk the walk.
Ananias and Sapphira didn’t walk the walk either; though sentencing in their case was more drastic and immediate. Luke writing in Acts 5:1-11 recounts the story of a married couple who were complicit in lying to the church leaders about the sales price of the property they sold for the purpose of donating the money to the church. Ananias walks in with his offering and presents it to the Apostle Peter claiming he was donating the full amount. Bzzzz, wrong. The text doesn’t say how Peter knew Ananias was lying, but he did. Peter tells Ananias Satan has filled his heart and led him to lie to men and to God. Zap, Ananias fell down and died and was carried out and buried. Three hours later wife Sapphira repeats the scene, right down to the unhappy ending.
My takeaway from the story as a youth was, “Don’t lie” or you might get zapped. I wasn’t always truthful, but the story hung ominously in the background. As I grew older, I added greed to the problem. It wasn’t until I took a New Testament class with Dr. Dana Harris at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School that hypocrisy registered as the real danger.
Dr. Harris pointed out that Ananias and Sapphira wanted the honor Barnabas received in Acts 4:36-37 without paying full freight. They wanted to appear as honorable and generous members of the church when inwardly they weren’t. Likewise, John Stott in his commentary on Acts notes that the newly-established community of the church relied upon truthfulness in fellowship. The actions of Ananias and Sapphira were against the church, so their hypocrisy needed to be publicly exposed and punished.
Living a life of pretense in the realm of financial responsibility remains deadly to reputations, if not lives, two millennia after Ananias and Sapphira were carried out the door. Pretending to hold to moral standards or beliefs without conforming behavior is the dictionary definition for “hypocrisy”.
During the season of Lent and as preparation for the Easter celebration, I want to reflect upon the issue of hypocrisy in my own life. My hypocritical acts may not make the headlines, but they are there in more ways than I care to name. I want the same “great fear” that seized the whole church after these deaths in Acts 5:11 to seize and convict me of the gravity of pretense.
What about you? What damage results from the practice of pretense? What have you witnessed first-hand?