Some of Jesus’s strongest words are for mask-wearers. People who pretend to be something else.. He calls them hypocrites, the Greek word for “actor.” Some archaeologists have suggested that Jesus knew the theater world well. His hometown of Nazareth was just a few miles away from the bustling construction scene of ancient Sepphoris, where a massive theater was built during Jesus’s lifetime. Such a project would’ve employed artisans, laborers, and even carpenters.
Jesus uses that word actor to talk about a type of theological thespian. They perform acts of righteousness to be seen by others (prayer, fasting, and giving to the poor in Matthew 6). They put unnecessary burdens on others (23:15), miss out on the entire point of the Law (23:23), and attempt to look good on the outside, while their inner life is rotting (23:29). They think they have the approval of the audience. Maybe, but they get panned by the only critic who matters.
Jesus has a message for the actors guild: take off the masks. Faith is not a costume to be worn, but instead a reality that comes from the inside out. He insists that faith is not merely external, but internal: adultery starts with the eyes (5:28) and hate starts in the heart (5:22). He teaches us to fast, pray, and give in secret, the one whose opinion matters can see in secret (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18). Others see the mask; God sees the heart. Take off the mask; take care of your heart.