Monday, July 05, 2010

Swallowing Camels, Straining Gnats

In Matthew, Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Here Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees not for doing sinful things, but for doing righteous things at the expense of other righteous things. In other words, Jesus does not condemn them for tithing; He condemns them for tithing in such a way as to neglect more important things. He condemns them not for vices but for swinging their virtues around and turning them into vices. He pronounces woe upon them for putting extra hours in at work at the expense of their children. He condemns them for doing family devotions in a way that teaches their children to hate family devotions. He rebukes husbands for being harsh with their wives and insisting they were only joking or only explaining their point of view. He’s talking about perfectionist parents who in the name of high standards constantly recall to the failures and struggles of their children to others and one another and do not notice the small people at their feet listening in their own ways, and children grow up only hearing the tones of disappointment or frustration. Jesus is talking about people who cross their theological t’s and dot their philosophical i’s in such a way as to drive friends and family away.

But how can we repent of our virtues? How can we know if we are tithing mint like hypocrites? Well, what’s the flavor flowing out of your house? Is it sarcastic, critical, complaining, bitter? Or is it peace and joy? Is it honest, thankful laughter or is it nervous and full of sideways glances?

What we need is wisdom to see ourselves accurately, and James says that if we lack wisdom, we need to ask God for it. But we must ask in faith, not doubting. But the warning is that if we ask while doubting that God will give us what we ask for, we will end up worse off than when we began. We will end up driven and tossed by the wind, unstable and double minded, swallowing camels while straining out gnats.

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