This Lent season, I've been reflecting on what it means to sacrifice and give up things to God. This passage in particular from Matthew 6: 5-6:
“When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you." (CEB)
A lot of people get the basic meaning from this passage that a hypocrite is someone who does one thing and in private is a completely different person. That's only part of the picture. The word has its roots in a Greek term called "hypokrises" which has a variety of meanings. It was mainly applied to people who were actors for a living, but other euphemisms for it were "coward," "jealous," "play-acting," and "dissembling." (At least according to the handy dandy Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary.)
Jesus wasn't preaching against people who were open with their faith, or actors. He was preaching against a mentality that made religion a commodity to gain social status. That leads to dangerous things later down the road.
Hypocrites, in this sense, are people who base their entire lives off of the applause of others. It's also a universal truth: growth and character can't be faked, because it's something that happens inside us amd it eventually comes out in one way or another. That's especially true for spirituality.
So when Jesus tells his followers to not be like the hypocrites, he is asking us to stop paying attention to the applause around us, and the things that cause that applause, and focus on our inner condition. In the same applicable way, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there are some people who absolutely thrive off of being controversial for the attention of it. I believe Jesus would say the same thing to them, because the only reward they get are the temporary reactions they want to see.
Again - authentic faith can't be faked. Eventually, when the rubber meets the road, we eventually see how people's faith influences what they do and how they respond. Usually the most spiritual people I have ever met are the people who don't know they're that spiritual. They dwell in spiritual practices in secret and it flows out naturally.
In the age of social media, it's especially important to be aware of this - because we're all guilty of it to some extent. But where Christ comes in is that He shows us a better way. He points to people who thrive off of that attention and says, "That's not healthy. The reward is temporary. Imagine how much better it will be when you spend time with Me instead."
When we enter into that Presence, we don't have to worry what others think of us. We don't have to think about images to maintain, social media validation, or keeping up with trends. We learn that we are loved, uniquely and wonderfully - and there's no better place to be.