23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
Jesus decided to use the Pharisees’ and scribes’ own self-made laws to call them out in this “woe”. In regards to tithing, it was mandated that the Rabbis or religious leaders tithe fine herbs and spices. Jesus points out that they appear super religious in that area but when it comes to securing justice, exercising mercy, or being faithful to God, they fall very short! One of the things that I constantly struggle with in my spiritual walk is doing everything evenly. I might read my bible more than I pray or put more importance on one aspect of spirituality than another or my personal theology might lean more towards one part of the bible than another. I believe that our spiritual growth is an ongoing process of absorbing God’s truth in our lives and learning how it all fits together. Jesus’ audience at this point, however, were more focused on their self righteousness and He revealed it through their actions.
In straining the gnat and swallowing the camel, Jesus uses another Pharisaical practice to reveal a greater travesty. It was forbidden to eat winged creatures with six legs (bugs) so they were very pious enough to make sure that if a tiny fly fell into their drink, they would strain it out or not even finish drinking it at all. Yet, they would be straining the bug out of their 5th or 6th glass of wine! They were so focused on issues like tithing fine spices and making sure they didn’t eat a bug, but their hypocrisy and gluttony was never a thing they considered being pious about.
How often do we focus so much on one thing that it distracts us from the bigger picture? How hard do we work to read our bible every day but forget to pray? How much do we pray and forget to read our bible? An irony (hypocrisy) that I discovered in my own life is how upset I would get at people interrupting me while in my bible study. Here I am reading about how to implement God’s peace, patience, and grace in my life but the second someone opens the door to ask me a question, I flip my lid! What a hypocrite!
Although Jesus is chastising the hypocrisy of the religious leadership in this chapter, we must recognize the constant hypocrisy in our lives. We are all hypocrites. Until we fully realize what it means to walk in the Kingdom, we will always be battling our own hypocrisy. We must fight it. It’s a part of being transformed into Christlikeness. I invite you to instead of worrying about the gnats in your life, first come to terms with the camels and get rid of them first. Once you do, the gnats will be easy.