The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 
 "You have neglected justice, mercy and faith"

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 devoted their lives to the study of the Law of God and  regarded themselves as legal experts in it.  They divided the ten commandments and precepts 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 anything 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 (Deut. 14:22; Lev. 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' lesson and humor? 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.  Love is sacrificial; it both embraces and lifts the burdens of others.  Do you allow the love of God to transform your mind and heart?

"Lord, fill me with your love and inflame my heart with zeal for your kingdom.  May I act with mercy, kindness and justice in all my relations and in all that I do".


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(c) 2002 Don Schwager