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Acting – or Authentic?

Marketing isn’t new. In the first century, actors went out to the city streets and put on short parts of their drama to attract crowds to their performances. Reminds me of when my mother and I were in Vienna and saw gentlemen and ladies dressed in eighteenth century attire, advertising Mozart and Strauss concerts.

Marketing for Mozart and Strauss concerts

Marketing for Mozart and Strauss concerts

Don and I are excited about an upcoming trip to Israel and Jordan. In preparation to visit this land we’ve heard about all our lives, we are reading devotionals prepared by our pastor, Rene Schlaepfer ( He says one of the most impressive buildings in the town of Sepphoris was its beautiful theater.

Schlaepfer writes: “I can imagine Jesus and Joseph on their way to a job in Sepphoris, walking past a busy street corner where actors loudly strutted while wearing their grotesque theatrical masks (in Greek theater, actors typically wore masks to portray their characters instead of make-up as modern actors do — in fact, the Greek masks representing comedy and tragedy are the icons of the acting profession to this day).

“Jesus’ impression of these street performers might even be evident in the Sermon on the Mount. He used the word ‘hypocrite’ several times in this message. That’s a word that has developed a very specific meaning in English, but in the Greek language of Jesus’ day it meant one thing:

“An actor.

As a teenager, I was fascinated by the life of Ferdinand “Fred” Demara, Jr., known as “the Great Pretender.” The man must have been brilliant. Throughout his life he performed as a monk, surgeon, deputy sheriff, doctor of psychology, cancer researcher, and prison warden, among other roles. During the Korean war he faked credentials as a Navy doctor, and even performed several successful surgeries on his ship. While the patient was being prepped, Demara would disappear with a textbook on surgery and speed-read the appropriate procedure!

Every time, he was eventually caught. He could fool people on a temporary basis, but eventually his mask slipped.

I had forgotten, but Schlaepfer reminded me that Demara “finally settled down when he became a Christian and graduated from Multnomah Bible College in Portland, Oregon. He then moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a well-loved hospital chaplain for the rest of his life. But after a lifetime of pretending, Fred Demara found the satisfaction of authenticity. He said that for years he was afraid to be real, that he was trapped in pretending.”

Jesus encourages authenticity, not acting. If we get trapped in a rigorous legalistic system and check off the boxes … gave money, helped the poor, didn’t miss a month’s worth of church services … we will want kudos for our achievements; and who determines how many points each action merits? That’s acting–putting on a front to gain merit points or approval. Jesus wants authenticity, authenticity which is possible because of the grace– unearned love and favor–of God.

I love Schlaepfer’s conclusion: “Grace, because it emphasizes God’s unconditional, initiating love, encourages honesty. That’s because you know you can’t do anything to make God love you more, and you know you can’t do anything to make God love you less. You might as well be authentic.”

So are you acting … or authentic? Do you live for the praise or approval of others; or by the grace of God?

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