Scripture: Matthew 23:23-26
23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! 25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. 26 You blind Pharisee! first cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
Meditation: Do you allow any blindspots to blur your vision of God's kingdom and his ways? Jesus went to the heart of the matter when he called the religious leaders of his day blind Pharisees and hypocrites! The word hypocrite means actor – someone who puts on a show to draw attention to themselves. The scribes regarded themselves as legal experts since they devoted their lives to the study of the law of God contained in the five books of Moses (Torah). They divided the 613 precepts of the Law of Moses [Rabbi Simlai,bTalmud Makkoth 24a]]into thousands of tiny rules and regulations. They were so exacting in their interpretations and in trying to live them out, that they had little time for much else. By the time they finished compiling their interpretations it took no less than fifty volumes to contain them! Jesus chastised them for neglecting the more important matters of religion, such as justice and the love of God. In their misguided zeal they had lost sight of God and of his purpose for the law.
Jesus used the example of tithing to show how far they had missed the mark. God had commanded a tithe of the first fruits of one's labor as an expression of thanksgiving and honor for his providential care for his people (Deuteronomy 14:22; Leviticus 27:30). The scribes, however, went to extreme lengths to tithe on insignificant things (such as tiny plants) with great mathematical accuracy. They were very attentive to minute matters of little importance, but they neglected to care for the needy and the weak. Jesus admonished them because their hearts were not right. They were filled with pride and contempt for others. They put unnecessary burdens on others while neglecting to show charity, especially to the weak and the poor. They meticulously went through the correct motions of conventional religion while forgetting the realities.
Jesus used a humorous example to show how out of proportion matters had gotten with them. Gnats were considered the smallest of insects and camels were considered the largest of animals in Palestine. Both were considered ritually impure. The scribes went to great lengths to avoid contact with gnats, even to the point of straining the wine cup with a fine cloth lest they accidently swallowed a gnat. The stark contrast must have drawn chuckles as well as groans.
What was the point of Jesus' humorous lesson? The essence of God's commandments is love – love of God and love of neighbor. God is love and everything he does flows from his love for us. True love is unconditional, costly, and sacrificial – it both embraces and lifts the burdens of others. Do you allow the love of God to transform your whole life – including the way you think of others, speak of them, and treat them?
"Lord Jesus, fill me with your love and mercy that I may always think, speak, and treat others with fairness, kindness, patience, and goodness."
1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O LORD, you know it altogether.
5 You beset me behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.