Read Matthew 6:1-18.
Two words really leap out at me in today's reading and I find myself wondering about the relationship between them.
The Greek word Πάτερ, "Father," occurs 418 times in the New Testament; eleven of them are found here in these verses. The Greek word hupokrités, or "hypocrites," comes up eighteen times in the New Testament, and three of them are here.
What to make of this? First, Jesus spoke Aramaic - not Greek. The word he used here would have been "abba" which is more accurately translated as "daddy" - that is a familiar, intimate term, not the formal one. We cannot ignore the patriarchal context of Jesus and of Matthew and we shouldn't. But we can note that the term is one of endearment and relationship more than it is focused on God's gender.
Hypocrites are fakes. Actors. Posers, as the English might say. Unlike our awareness about God-talk, here very little is lost in translation or needs updating. Hypocrites are more interested in pretending for the sake of appearances than in an intimate relationship with God. We Christians need to move beyond Christian anti-Semitism which sees the "hypocrites" as first-century Jews - of which Jesus was one, after all. Rather, it is a unique problem that religious people face, across the generations. We pray and act in certain ways so the neighbors will notice - rather than as a means to deepen our relationship with the living God. And that's a problem.
So as I translate this text to our time and place, I see Jesus saying, beware of the kind of piety that impresses the neighbors and makes God wince. Beware of praying long prayers, just say "Hey Mr. (or Ms.) God - this is Anna!"
Obviously faith has both dimensions and we are called to "love God and love our neighbor." But when it comes to who we need to impress, it seems to me the answer is pretty clear. The neighbors are fickle, and love gossip and are often simply concerned with appearances. We can spend our whole lives faking it. The goal of the life of faith is to be in relationship with the living God, who loves us as a parent loves her child. Unconditionally.