“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!” (NLT)
Many years ago, a large airliner crashed in the Florida Everglades with all onboard killed. The aircraft simply flew into the ground despite an experienced crew on the flight deck. Investigations showed that the pilots had been trying to fix what seemed to be a faulty instrument. All on the flight deck were consumed with rectifying what later turned out to be a simple blown lamp.
As they fiddled around with the instrument, someone accidentally disconnected the auto pilot and the aircraft slowly descended into the ground with the crew not aware of it until too late. Focusing on the minor issue – one faulty instrument – meant neglect of the major issue: keeping the aircraft flying.
Jesus seems to be saying something like that to his critics, and perhaps to us. His critics were scrupulous in keeping the details of the law, but apparently ignored what those laws were supposed to represent: justice, mercy, and faith. It is one mark of legalists, that they carefully observe the letter of the law but neglect the spirit of the law.
Our religious routines and traditions and rituals may be good in themselves. But not if they cause us to lose sight of the bigger picture. If this happens, we become mere practitioners of religion rather than followers of Jesus.
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