Who doesn’t love Hugh Jackman? I mean come on! All Aussie good bloke, Broadway star. Handsome, debonaire in that larrikin way. Family man.
And there’s something of Hugh Jackman about all of us. No, not that lupine thing with the hand blades, but something internal nonetheless.
A fascinating interview with HJ in The Australian newspaper on the weekend revealed some stuff about him. First, his parents were converted to Christianity at a Billy Graham crusade. Second, he still calls himself Christian.
Never saw that coming, whatever we think of what he means by that word. Still, publicly, in an age where a celeb being publicly Christian is to invite the public scorn of the likes of serial moaner, The Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Fitzsimmons, it’s a big call.
But here’s the thing. When Hugh is asked if he reads reviews of his work he hesitates. And then he mentions one reviewer who completely nailed him. It was a review of his one man show, Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway. The reviewer said this:
All Hugh Jackman requires is that you love him loving you loving him.
Ouch. Read it again slowly. Jackman did, and he said it found him out.
“I had to read it about three times, I knew instantly what it meant, …it’s about approval.”
Jesus would have picked it too, wouldn’t he? Because it’s the heart of the Pharisee. The heart of the Pharisee is not that he was overtly religious. Jesus had no problem with that. Indeed in Matthew 23 Jesus explicitly tells the crowds and his disciples to “do what the teachers of the law say.”
Just not what they do. They say one thing. But do another. And they say what they say and present how they present for one reason alone – the approval of others:
5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honour at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi[b] by others. (Matthew 23:5-7)
Or to put it another way: The teachers of the law loved you loving them for loving God.
And they were loved by the people. And they loved being loved by them. They just didn’t love God. The Pharisees get a great rap from everyone in history as the best, holiest, most sincere, righteous people. Except from Jesus.
Jesus was the only person in history who gave them a bad rap. Why? Because Jesus was the only human being ever who could see into another person’s heart.
We dislike the Pharisees because we’ve been trained to see them as evil grasping Shylocks. And the disdain our culture has for religious observance simply adds to that. We know how this thing works, so we know that someone else is always the Pharisee and never ourselves.
But Hugh Jackman is more honest that we are. The heart of the Pharisee is not religious observance. The heart of the Pharisee is to present externally in such a way as to seek the approval of others. And back in their day strict religious observance was honoured and praised by the culture.
No so today. It’s true, you can still be a Pharisee today as an uptight religious fundamentalist. But the pool of those who honour you for so being is shrinking, and could even be confined to your local congregation.
However a culture in which everyone seeks the approval and honour of others? That has never gone away. You don’t need broad phylacteries and long fringes on your cloak to be a Pharisee.
You can be a Pharisee as a free-flowing secular progressive in this most instant-of-approval age. The pool of those ready to applaud you can grow exponentially on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Another name for that is virtue signalling. And another name for that is loving the fact that others love you for demonstrably loving the same things they love.
Humans find that intoxicating. I find it intoxicating. The lupine desire for the approval of others dwells in me. Believe me, the public role of writing means it’s never lurking far from the surface. In fact it’s probably just below the surface enough to not be seen for what it is.
God finds it appalling. And Jesus called it out.
The solution is twofold: First to recognise that our hearts are laid bare before Jesus here and now. He sees through all pretence. So why bother.
And second, (and without this the first truth has no traction), to recognise that God in Christ fully approves of us already. Not due to our performance either external or internal. But due to his external and internal performance.
We need neither know the paralysing fear of human rejection or the constant, and futile craving of complete acceptance by others, because in Christ we have been fully accepted. We are liberated therefore to serve others not in order to get their approval, but because we have God’s approval. Only that can keep the wolverine heart of the Pharisee from our door.
And maybe Hugh Jackman will discover that one day too.