It’s a striking passage, that Matthew 23.
It strikes the Pharisaic mind right between the eyes, pretty much blackening both of them.
These are the utterances of Jesus that may be titled in your Bible, “Seven Woes.” Or, in a more conversational translation, “Seven ‘Whoas!'”. Seven stop-and-rethink-these-items.
The one that draws my attention every time is right in the middle, which probably is at the heart of them for a reason:
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. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
There’s some funny material in there to lighten it up. I can’t quite picture Jesus lambasting the Pharisees to the listening public like a red-faced, fiercely-toned, pulpit-pounding modern-day preacher and still saying those things. You know, about the gnat and the camel. And the “blind guides” part.
But I could be wrong. There’s some pretty serious lambasting in there, too.
For tithing to the extreme – but neglecting justice, mercy and faithfulness. The very things God expects/requires of us, according to Micah 6:8. That’s a lot to neglect. Especially when emphasizing compliance with the law in the tiniest matters.
Would such a Pharisee preach someone into hell for missing a sprig of mint or a shoot of dillweed? Yet conspire against an innocent man of God? Even His Son? To the point of murder?
Looks that way.
We Christians would never do that, would we?
Picket an abortion clinic with signs bearing hateful slogans, without offering to adopt, provide foster care, advocate equal pay for women, train and reward good parenting for those who keep rather than abort?
Castigate someone for an infraction against our worship tradition at the Lord’s table, while doing nothing to help thousands of starving refugees in Africa?
Condemn a brother for having a different opinion on doctrine, while lifting no finger to teach lost millions about Jesus?
Surely we know our mountains from our molehills.
Are we concentrating on the majors – and not neglecting the minors with whatever time and energy the Spirit gives us after we have displayed Jesus’ good will in a major way? So that people will see our good works and praise our Father in heaven?
Are we being blind guides in such matters?
Or is it just that these verses give us a pair of black eyes, too?
“Whoa!” unto us.