Gnats and Camels

23"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

Jesus can be firey in the New Testament. For as much as we like to paint him as a constantly chill, peace loving kind of guy, he occasionally has some difficult things to say to difficult people. In this morning's reading, Jesus took aim at the scribes and the Pharisees. Now, it is beyond easy to make the scribes and the Pharisees straw men, the "bad guys" Jesus is always working against, and who are always trying to bring Jesus down. But perhaps we could look at this a little differently. Perhaps instead of reading "scribes," or "Pharisees," we should read "religious leaders," or even "people who think they're on the inside." Suddenly we might find Jesus' words pointed at us.

So this morning I found myself wondering what it would look like to focus this holiday season on the weightier matters, like justice and mercy and faith. What does this gift I want to buy for my wife have to say about justice in the world? How am I being merciful when I pass those red buckets and the bells that ring on my way in and out of the grocery store? Where is my faith this season? Do I trust God to put the world back the way it should be, and am I participating in that action? Suddenly wrapping paper looks a little different. Suddenly where I choose to buy my coffee has eternal applications.

It seems that when Jesus ends this passage with gnats and camels that he is saying it's no use focusing on anything else until we've dealt with the huge issues of justice and mercy and faith. Whether our Starbucks cup has snowflakes on it or not pales in comparison to how the farmer who grew the beans is treated. The pile of gifts under the tree is in no way more important than the gifts we've given to those who have nothing. So I don't know about you, but I'm going to try my very best to not strain out gnats this season. I want to focus on the camel. I want to focus on the weightier matters of faith. I want to be about justice, and mercy, and love, and peace, and faith.

Are you with me?

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