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 blind-spots 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! A hypocrite is an actor or
imposter who says one thing but does the opposite or who puts on
an outward appearance of doing good while inwardly clinging to
wrong attitudes, selfish desires and ambitions, or bad intentions.
Many scribes and Pharisees had made it a regular practice to
publicly put on a good show of outward zeal and piety with the
intention of winning greater honors, privileges, and favors among
the people. Jesus had a very good reason for severely rebuking the
scribes and Pharisees, the religious teachers and leaders, for
misleading people and neglecting the heart and essence of God's
law - love of God and love of neighbor
What forms our outward practices and habits?
The scribes in particular devoted their whole lives to the study of God's law contained in the five books of Moses (Torah). As the religious experts of their day, they took great pride in their knowledge and outward observance of the commandments and precepts of the law of Moses. They further divided the 613 precepts of the Law of Mosesinto 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.
God's law of love reveals what is truly important and necessary
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 who were not like themselves. They put unnecessary burdens on others while neglecting to show charity, especially to the weak and the poor.
The scribes and Pharisees meticulously went through the outward observance of their religious duties and practices while forgetting the realities of God's intention and purpose for the law - his love and righteousness (justice and goodness). 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 accidentally swallowed a gnat. The stark contrast must have drawn chuckles as well as groans.
God's love shapes our minds and transforms our hearts and actions
What was the point of Jesus' humorous and important lesson? The essence of God's commandments is rooted in love - love of God and love of neighbor, righteousness (justice and goodness), and mercy. God is love and everything he does, including his justice and goodness, flows from his love for us. True love is costly and sacrificial - it both embraces and lifts the burdens of others. Do you allow the love of God to shape and transform the way you live your daily life - including the way you think of others, speak of them, and treat them?
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.
Daily Quote from the Early Church Fathers: Neglecting Weighty Matters of Love and Justice, by Origen of Alexandria (185-254 AD)
"Not only among the Jews but among ourselves as well, we find
people sinning in these ways. They are swallowing camels. People
of this type frequently show off their religion even in the
smallest of things. They are rightly called hypocrites for wanting
to exploit their religiosity before men but being unwilling to
undertake that very faith which God himself has justified.
Therefore the imitators of the scribes and Pharisees must be
dislodged and sent away from us, lest a woe touches us in the same
way it touches them. The scribes could be described as those who
valued nothing found in the Scriptures except its plain sense
interpreted legalistically. Meanwhile they condemn those who look
into the very depths of God himself. Mint and dill and cummin are
only spices for food but are not themselves substantial food. What
substantive food would mean in conversion would be that which is
necessary for the justification of our souls - faith and love -
unlike these legalisms, which are more like condiments and
flavorings. It is as if a meal might be thought to consist more of
condiments and flavorings than the food itself. The seriousness of
judgment is neglected while great attention is given to minor
matters. Spiritual exercises which in and of themselves are hardly
justice are spoken of as justice and compassion and faith. It is
lacking in justice to treat these small parts as the whole. When
we do not offer to God the observance of all that is necessary for
worship, we fail altogether." (excerpt from COMMENTARY
ON MATTHEW 19-20)