They are just little pieces of cloth, but there has been huge controversy lately over the wearing of masks and whether or not they should be made compulsory in public venues.
Supporters say that wearing a mask is common sense, stops the virus from spreading, and shows consideration for others. The reason is simple: even handmade face coverings can protect others from being infected by blocking droplets emitted by speaking, coughing and sneezing.
Opponents argue that masks induce a false sense of security, are ineffective, overplay the seriousness of the coronavirus, and take away our freedom of choice. Some point to the cultural and relational repercussions of not being able to see one another’s faces – including suspicion, mistrust and disconnection.
Whether or not you agree with wearing physical masks in a public place (I’ll be wearing mine), there are some masks all of us need to remove from time to time.
Jesus had a lot to say about mask-wearing. Throughout the gospels, he uses the Greek word hupokrisis, which literally means ‘acting from behind a mask.’ It was likely that Jesus was referring to the actors who performed in the Sepphoris amphitheatre, just a few miles from his hometown Nazareth. These actors wore masks to help them portray different characters to the audience. Jesus often used this word to describe the Pharisees, who performed outward religious acts to gain the approval of their audience. Their obsession with the appearance of righteousness caused them to conceal the truth of their inward brokenness.
The reality is that it’s human nature to hide. We can so easily become preoccupied with superficial appearances and judgments!
A few years ago, the landlady of a house I was renting came round to ensure I was looking after it well. Of course I wanted to make the best possible impression. I cleaned and fixed whatever I could. I washed the grimy windows and trimmed the overgrown garden. Everything looked respectable.
But old habits die hard.
When D-day arrived, I was running out of time, so I stuffed everything that was lying around in the upstairs wardrobes. There were also a few places I’d missed cleaning, like inside the oven and the roof of the microwave. My landlady began her inspections by opening the oven door. ‘Ah, the oven needs cleaned,’ she said. I started to feel a little uncomfortable. After she had looked in the microwave, she went upstairs and I could hear her opening and closing cupboards. By this stage, the embarrassment was painful! I was mortified that somebody else had become so familiar with all the hidden messes in my home.
We wear different kinds of masks in life. Sometimes we arrive at church, work or go out for dinner with friends knowing our inside messiness and yet only seeing the polished performances of everyone else. So we put on the mask to make everyone else think we are doing great too.
Other masks we can put on to protect others. We find ourselves thinking, ‘they have enough to cope with; they don’t need my stuff on top of their own.’ All the while our stressors build up within us to an unhealthy level, as we feel we have no safe space to share.
But what would Jesus have us do? Would he have us walk in pretense, or would he rather we let people into those ’cupboards,’ whose doors our pride or concern would otherwise prevent us from opening? Would he have us all carry our burdens alone, or share our struggles with others?
It is true that people who are open and honest about their failures walk with a limp. But that is what makes it possible for hurting people to catch up with us to ask for help.
When we take the masks off before God, we can be free to be ourselves and enjoy deep relationship with him. When we remove our masks with others, they become free to be themselves around us.
The recognition of brokenness brings an end to performances. Authentic connection becomes achievable. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather live in an imperfect community that’s honest and vulnerable, than participate in a ‘stained glass masquerade.’
Masks in a pandemic are worn to protect others. Some of the masks we wear in life we wear for the same reason. Maybe we need take those off around the right people. But often we spend so much time hiding our brokenness that we squander the depth of relationship available to us.
What masks are you wearing today? Which ones do you need to remove at the appropriate times, and which ones do you need to remove for good?