In times gone by when I heard the term ‘The Mask,’ my mind immediately thought of Jim Carry’s film of the same name. Carry plays a hapless bank clerk who finds a magical green mask that transforms him into a mischievous troublemaker with superpowers. More recently, ‘the mask’ has taken on an entirely different meaning as, should I venture out on public transport or into my local supermarket, my first thought is ‘have I got the mask with me?’
My green mask doesn’t transform me into a comic hero, nor does it give me extraordinary powers, rather it is intended to offer some form of protection against transmitting or picking up the Coronavirus.
I must admit that wearing this mask makes me feel like someone I’m not. After all, I’ve always associated wearing a mask with a bank robber, or someone holding up an off licence, or a mugger in a dark alleyway. As I walk into Tesco’s with only my eyes visible my instinctive reaction is ‘this makes me feel like a criminal.’ I haven’t been transformed into a criminal by simply wearing a mask, but it feels like this is the persona I’m presenting to the world.
Interestingly, throughout antiquity, so far as we know, all the actors in Greek tragedies, comedies and satyr plays wore masks all the time they were on stage. The mask signalled the act of impersonation as they were transformed into the character they were playing. An actor often played multiple roles within the same play by disguising himself with a series of masks. He might come in from one side of the stage wearing the mask of Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, and hence a sad mask as he delivered solemn and sorrowful lines. Then later he would appear from the other side of the stage wearing the mask of Thalia, the muse of comedy, and hence a smiling mask as he delivered lines designed to make people laugh.
The English word ‘hypocrite’ originates from this theatrical context. It came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means ‘an actor’ or ‘a stage player.’ This Greek word is made up of two Greek words that literally translate as ‘an interpreter from underneath.’ In other words, the Greek actors interpreted the story from underneath their masks. Over the years hypokrites and thus hypocrite has come to refer to any person who is wearing a figurative mask, pretending to be someone or something they are not. They are just acting. They are just being two-faced.
The founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, had some strong words for the hypocrites of his day: ‘Woe to you…hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.’ Jesus was calling out those who didn’t practise what they preached, who said one thing but did another.
If I am absolutely honest, I have to own up to varying degrees of hypocrisy, where I’ve put the mask on to hide what’s happening inside and to transform me into a different persona on the outside. Usually, it’s done to present me in the best possible light so that I look good to other people. However, if I am going to be a follower of Jesus, and an authentic one, then I need to take off the mask of hypocrisy and live by the beliefs I profess.
The next time I go on public transport or into Tesco’s and I diligently put my green mask on, I’ll be thinking about the persona I’m presenting to the world. It won’t turn me into a superhero, but it will help me to think about my authenticity as a Christian.
Have an authentic week.