Actress Louise Fletcher has a talent for playing cold-hearted folks.
She won an Academy Award for portraying a heartless nurse in the sad movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Years later, she played the self-centered religious leader Kai Winn in the TV series “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”
Kai Winn was from the planet, Bajor, which endured 50 years of merciless oppression from another alien race called the Cardassians.
The Bajorans have gained their freedom, but still bear the scars — both physical and mental — caused by the brutal regime that occupied their planet.
My point is this:
You’d have thought such suffering would have inspired Kai Winn to put her religion to work helping others and even placing their needs above her own.
Instead, Kai Winn only seeks political gain. She’s determined to hang onto her power and prestige even if it costs other people’s lives.
Kai Winn is a fictional character, but if she were a Biblical figure she could have been compared to most Pharisees during the time of Christ.
Simply put: She was a hypocrite.
Jesus never spoke well of hypocrites and he really comes down hard on the Pharisees.
In the book of Matthew, chapter 23, Jesus tells the people that they must obey the religious leaders, because they’re the authority.
“But don’t do what they do, for they don’t practice what they preach,” Jesus says.
Jesus says these religious leaders put heavy loads on others, while they do nothing.
They love places of honor and special titles and do everything to draw attention to themselves.
Jesus says they give 10 percent of their spices to the church, but neglect more important matters of law — like justice, mercy and faithfulness — when they should have been practicing all these things.
The Pharisees work hard to uphold their manmade traditions and project a good outward appearance, but they’re filled with wickedness.
Jesus tells the Pharisees to clean up on the inside, then they’ll be OK on the outside.
And he says anybody who wants to be great must be a servant.
“For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted,” Jesus says.
No, Matthew 23 isn’t the happiest chapter in the Bible.
But it makes me think.
Is my inside as good as my outside? Is my thought life as good as my words?
What do my words and actions reflect?
We can think some pretty rude thoughts. We can say little things that may not seem so bad on the surface, but which can carry underlying criticism.
I think we must be on guard for such things and be quick to repent.
Christ’s assessment of the Pharisees produce other soul-searching questions, like:
Do we perform good deeds hoping gain acclaim?
Are we merciful when somebody makes a mistake? Are we faithful to those around us?
Nobody’s perfect. And as my former pastor used to say: “We’re all fellow strugglers.”
That’s where I find comfort in the words of the Apostle Paul.
In a letter to the Romans, Paul explains his dilemma. He doesn’t do the good things he wants to do.
Instead, he does the stuff he doesn’t want to do.
I love how The Message Bible puts it: “The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up.” (Romans 7:21)
But Paul offers an answer in Romans, chapter 8, in which he basically says we can’t do this all by ourselves.
We need the Holy Spirit to help us.
For years, I’ve prayed:
“Please Lord, let your thoughts be my thoughts;”
“And your words be my words;”
“And your actions be my actions.”
More recently, I’ve also prayed:
“Help me to say what you want me to say;
To do what you want me to do;
Go where you want me to go;
And be what you want me to be.”
Am I telling you this, because I’m Sister Super Christian?
Not at all.
I’m well-acquainted with my faults.
I just know we all grapple with trying to think, say and do the right things consistently.
Most of us want to do better.
It’s just hard, sometimes.
That’s where the help of a loving God can provide so much strength and encouragement.
The Holy Spirit, who is our comforter, counselor and guide, can help us do the right things. We can read about him in chapters, 14, 15 and 16 in the book of John.
Recently, I found such comfort in this Bible verse:
“And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to obey my rules.” Ezekiel 36:27.
We don’t have the row the boat all by ourselves. The Scriptures say Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, but didn’t sin and now he’s in heaven interceding for us with our Heavenly Father.
I can imagine Jesus saying something like this: “Father, I know Tammy shouldn’t have said that when the guy turned out in front of her in traffic, but she’s sorry and she’s trying to do better … You know I died so Tammy and people like her can spend eternity with us, which is what we want. Let’s forgive her again.”
OK, who am I to put words in Christ’s mouth? I know I’d better be careful, but I also know our Lord loves and is tender toward us.
And I believe he really has our best interest at heart.
He’s not like the hard-hearted woman who Louise played in that 1970s movie.
And he’s not like Kai Winn. He’s not like those wicked Pharisees of long-ago, either.
By the way, not every religious leader in the Bible turned out so bad. Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the high council, went to Pontius Pilate and asked to take Christ’s body off the cross after our Savior died.
When granted permission, Joseph and Nicodemus, a Pharisee, took Christ’s body, wrapped him in linen cloths and put him in a tomb.
It was a risky move considering the persecution at that time, but I believe it was God-ordained.
I have to think Joseph and Nicodemus prayed for God’s strength and help.
As for Louise, I was touched while watching a video of when she accepted the Oscar for Best Actress for “Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1976.
She expressed her thanks in sign language to her parents the Rev. Robert C. Fletcher and Estelle Fletcher, both of whom were deaf.
The late Episcopalian pastor is credited with founding many congregations for people with hearing impairments.
Louise, now 86, has been through a divorce and battled breast cancer. She’s obviously had tough times, but I doubt she’s anything like the heartless characters she’s played.
And I’m glad her portrayals can serve as reminders of how we really shouldn’t be.
Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She writes a weekly faith-based column.