If you're not new to my blog, you know that on Wednesday nights in our Singles class, we've spent the past several weeks discussing "Eight Ways to Be a Bad Christian" from Matthew 23. If you are new to my blog, you can find the previous posts in this series here and here. Last night we moved on to Number 6:
Make big things out of small things and small things out of big things.
"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."--Matt. 23:23-24
I don't have a "Rather, Jesus said..." for this, because his instructions are already in the passage. Practice the latter, without neglecting the former. However, we did look at a couple of passages in the Old Testament that are strikingly parallel to what Jesus is saying here. Let me just share those with you:
"With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."--Micah 6:6-8
And, one that I like even better, just because of the beautiful imagery in it:
"I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!"--Amos 5:21-24
The law of Moses commanded the Israelites to give to God a tenth of everything. Granted, the giving of the spices probably held more meaning for the Israelites then, than it does for us today. But still...in the grand scheme of things...the spices were relatively small. Yet the Pharisees were determined to get that part right. Unfortunately, according to Micah, Amos, and Jesus, they could give a tenth of everything, from the spices to their firstborn; but without justice, mercy, righteousness, faithfulness, and humility, it would mean nothing to God.
That's what the Pharisees were missing. They couldn't see the forest for the trees. Here are a few examples of previous behavior of the Pharisees that we discussed last night.
1. John 8:1-11--They drag a woman, caught in adultery, to Jesus, questioning Him about what to do with her, in an effort to trap him. Notice a lack of justice--where was the man? Notice an even bigger lack of mercy--they're ready to stone the woman! Notice a lack of concern for righteousness--their hearts were not burdened with the fact that this woman had sinned; she was a mere pawn in their effort to trap the Teacher. I will give them the humility on this one, but only after-the-fact. Only after Jesus, in His wisdom, pointed out that they all were sinners.
2. Luke 13:10-17--They throw a fit because Jesus healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath. Notice a lack of justice--although they would gladly free an animal on the Sabbath, they were unwilling to allow Jesus to free a fellow human being. Notice a lack of mercy--why aren't they happy that a woman is finally free from nearly two decades of suffering? And notice that once again, they were humiliated by the words of the Master.
3. John 9:1-34--Jesus heals a "blind dude" (as Alan referred to him on Keith's blog!), once again, on the Sabbath. You'd think He'd learn. Or, rather, you'd think that the Pharisees would learn that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. But no...here we go again. This time, there is an investigation, with witnesses questioned. The man himself was questioned. Lack of mercy? You bet--nobody is happy for this guy that his life has been changed for the better. But that's okay for this guy; after experiencing Christ's amazing grace, all he has to say is "I was blind but now I see." Lack of righteousness? Right again...in fact, the blind dude calls them on it. He reminds them that "God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does His will." But they would not have it. Lack of justice? They got angry and threw him out, this time, not realizing that they, as well, were just as much sinners as the guy that they just threw out.
4. Luke 7:36-50--While Jesus is dining in the home of a Pharisee, a woman of ill repute anoints His feet with perfume and her tears and wipes them off with her hair. Simon, who was obviously not a very good Pharisee, because he actually kept his thoughts to himself rather than saying them out loud, thinks judgementally of this woman, rather than mercifully. Jesus teaches Simon a lesson in humility, while honoring the woman's faithfulness.
Now, we must ask, how often are we like that? As Chuck pointed out, it's always a little worrisome when you hear someone railing on the Pharisees, because to be quite honest, their biggest problem was that they were alot like us. Would we ever be more concerned with our own skewed idea of justice, rather than with showing mercy to a fellow sinner? Would we ever be more concerned with keeping the smallest details of the law, with no concern for the suffering of our fellow brothers and sisters? Would we ever be more concerned with preserving our power and protecting our turf, because we're unsure of where something new comes from, never mind the fact that lives are being changed for the better because of it? Would we ever see a brother or sister who is tearful and repentant, and look down upon them in judgement, rather than accepting them as our Savior has?
Just a few questions that I think may be worth asking. Continue to stay tuned...