But this is all so much deeper than that. Faces are powerful things. We respond to them. Covering them over is therefore powerful too. It involves shame and avoidance of shame. It involves blame. When certain middle eastern cultures wrap a woman’s face in cloth, there is an implicit idea that she is the temptress and that men cannot be held responsible for what they do at the sight of a face, let alone a leg.
Why does the defeated and humiliated politician grow a beard? Why do humiliated Islamic nations take a turn towards militancy which legalistically requires long beards?
Why does Cain’s ‘countenance fall’ when his sacrifice is rejected by God?
Jesus was making a much bigger point than ‘hey those religious leaders don’t live up to their own standards’. He was making a point about human nature, about how our social systems are like plays in which everyone is both an actor and a critic. The mask police are of course in the glory now, because mask wearing and mask imposing has always been a powerful shame-inducing/avoiding/controlling mechanism.
Now, of course none of this is grist for the mill against the prudential use of masks. Don’t use my argument that way. We wear them whenever we go someplace where there’s a crowd, except in complete outdoor spaces (like cycling on the trail). I think masks are great and are the opener-uppers’ (like me) best friend. They make social distancing and lockdown kind of portable. And for the record, just like mask wearing can be a kind of virtue signaling on the part of some people, so not wearing masks in risky situations can be a kind of virtue signaling as well. The former is about signaling “I believe in science.” The other can be a kind of false bravado or ornery rebellion against government overreach. The point is to actually practice virtue (specifically the virtue of prudence) and not signal it.