Summary: Shows how the Pharisees did and sometimes we do miss the harder parts of God’s plan--justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
Straining Gnats and Swallowing Camels
MT 23:23 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
This passage is right in the midst of a larger context of Jesus condemning the Pharisees on seven counts. As we know, the Pharisees were very proud of their observance of the Law. Most of these condemnations start out with Jesus mentioning some drastic way in which the Pharisees keep the Law. And in this case, he talks about the extremes that they go to in order to make sure they pay the full tithe. About 10 years or so ago, I started noticing something in the stores called Chia Pets. These were clay animals that you would rub seeds across. Then you put water inside the clay, and the animal grows a nice plant all around it. After a few years, they came up with a new idea, called the Chia Herb Garden. Instead of buying dried herbs and spices, you could plant your own fresh herbs. Then when you wanted to season a dish, you just cut some off and use it. Now, let’s imagine that you bought one of those Chia Herb Gardens. When you have ten leaves, do you need bring one to God? When you’ve grown nine pots of herbs, do you have to bring the next pot to the church and toss it in the offering box? If I stood up here and told you that, you might think that I was crazy. At the least you would think that I was very strict. That would be a very strict interpretation of the Law of Tithing.
So did Jesus want to condemn the Pharisees for being too strict? Was his problem that they were too committed to tithing? Absolutely not! In fact, the Law of Moses did require them to tithe on ALL of their increase, including whatever they grew in their gardens. Sometimes we think of the Pharisees and how strict they were and then we see Jesus condemning them and we think that this is why. We can conclude that Jesus must not like people who are so zealous. I’ve heard too many people, even people who say they are Christians, use the old proverb, “everything in moderation,” and try to apply it to Christianity. They say that Christianity is a good part of your life, but it shouldn’t be the only focus of your life. But Jesus is no proponent of this kind of wishy-washy faith. Jesus was the exact opposite. He was a religious revolutionary. He called for extraordinary measures. He was the one who said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” He was the one who required “hatred” of your father and mother in order to follow him. He was the one who told some to sell all that they had and give it to the poor. Jesus is indeed looking for zealous followers. He is looking for people who are willing to sell all the small pearls they have to buy the pearl of great price. He is looking for people who are willing to give up their life, so that they may gain it.