Masks

By Michael E. Brooks

Jesus said to him, ?Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known me, Phillip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ?Show us the Father??? (John 14:9).
Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men?s bones and all uncleanness (Matthew 23:27).

In my travels in Africa, Asia and South America, one of my favorite types of souvenir is carved masks. They take a variety of forms and have different traditional roles in the cultures of their respective countries and continents, but the better examples all share a certain beauty and ?mystique? that I find fascinating.
One common category of masks is religious, with the mask representing a particular deity or spirit. This is similar to the Hindu belief that their gods may be perceived through thousands, or even millions, of manifestations. In the Hindu pantheon there are three primary deities, but vast numbers of forms through which each one has supposedly been revealed and may be worshipped. Several questions arise from this concept: Which is the real form of the god? What is he (or she) really like? What is the value of a manifestation that is not a true representation? What qualities does the deity actually possess all of the time?
Some might suggest that Christians are even worse off, with faith in an invisible God ?whom no man has seen or can see? (1 Timothy 6:16). Many, like Phillip, long to have God shown to them (John 14:8). The answer to such requests or complaints is plain. If we have seen Jesus, we have seen God. He is ?the image of the invisible God? (Colossians 1:15), ?the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person? (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is the perfect manifestation of the nature of God who made us and whom we love and serve. He is no mask wearer, disguising himself as God. He is not a partial manifestation revealing only some characteristics of the Father. They are one (John 17:21), each possessing all the divine nature, different only in that the Son derives authority from the Father (Matthew 28:18), and took temporary possession of human flesh (Hebrews 2:14). We (humans) have seen Jesus, and therefore we know the Father.
Another common use of masks in all cultures is to disguise the identity and nature of the wearer. Whether it is for a costume party, to commit a crime, or to hide emotions, many wear masks of various kinds. Not all are carved of wood or made of fabric. Not all masks are separate, artificial items to be worn like clothing or painted on like makeup. Jesus condemned those whose outward appearance was intentionally posed so as to conceal their inward character. This is called ?hypocrisy? and is sin. Such ?masks? can consist of superficial behavior (like going to church, or doing good deeds) which is motivated by the desire to deceive rather than to fulfill the real purpose of the designed behavior (see Matthew 6:1-8). One?s mask may also be insincere flattery (Jude 16), deceptive teaching (1 Timothy 4:1-2), or ?selective? behavior (acting one way in a particular setting, then the opposite in other places or times as in James 2:8-12).
One thing I have noticed about many of the masks I find is that they are large, often heavy, and rather burdensome. I cannot imagine wearing such masks very long or very often. Experience teaches us that the hypocritical masks we take up are also awkward and difficult to maintain. They form burdens from which we often seek relief. Jesus offers us exactly that comfort, allowing us to be restored to our true nature as God?s offspring, and to live honestly and sincerely in his presence.
Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

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Michael Brooks

Since 1988 Mike and his wife Brenda have been involved in foreign missions in South America, Africa, and South Asia. Beginning in 1999 they devoted full time to missions, primarily in Bangladesh and Nepal.

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