The Matthew passage takes up the conflict of Jesus and the Pharisees. They set trap after trap for him and yet he caught them instead. He finally turns his holy wrath on them, identifying the personal failures of those who held themselves up as the most holy of all. Most of us today sit back and say we are “just” church members and do not see the Pharisee inside.
With mass media, both traditional and social, providing channels to reinforce our beliefs – whatever they are – it becomes so much easier to find reasons to separate ourselves from the world around us and in so doing, indirectly judging those who do not connect with us or agree with us as something inferior. If you do not agree with me, and this website, then surely you do not know what you are talking about. You see, I know a website and cable channel that totally agree with me.
It all proves me right.
I am a Christian.
I am God’s chosen.
That makes me right!
I am a Pharisee.
Suddenly it does not sound so good.
In verse 23, Jesus calls them on the basic nature of their beliefs and actions. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, 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.” Well, tithing is important, but mint, dill, and cumin were among the smallest herbs used in the Middle East at the time. He was making a point that giving the tenth of them was small, easy, requiring no effort.
How much effort does our belief take?
The verses of Psalm 37 again remind us to wait patiently on God’s justice. That while those Pharisees practice injustice and profit from their wicked ways in the short term, He sees and judges and in the end, “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” The path of the righteous sounds far more tedious as described in the chapter than the ways of the wicked, and the ways of the Pharisees in Jesus’s time, but offered much more in the end. For ultimately, with the wicked, “their sword shall enter their own heart and their bows shall be broken.”
How much patience do we have?
Effort and patience.
Is God asking too much of those who follow Him?
Is justice, mercy, and faith too much? We cannot easily pull them off the shelf and lay them on the altar, but they make the difference in the world around us. They set us apart from the rest of the world. As we approach Christmas, meditating on these qualities prepares us to receive the gift of God who gave so much more.