The woods and the trees - Hope 103.2

The woods and the trees

By David ReayThursday 21 Nov 2013LifeWords DevotionalsFaithReading Time: 0 minutes


Read Matthew 23:23-24

Alas for you,scribes and Pharisees,you utter frauds! For you pay your tithe on mint and aniseed and cummin,and neglect the things which carry far more weight in the Law-justice,mercy and good faith. These are the things you should have observed-without neglecting the others. You call yourselves leaders,and yet you can’t see an inch before your noses,for you filter out the mosquito and swallow the camel. (JBP)

We say that people can’t see the wood for the trees when we suggest they are focussing on small details and losing sight of the big picture. Much like Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees. They were experts on the details of the law but neglected what the law pointed towards: love of God and others expressed in worship and justice.

Eugene Peterson illustrates this tendency by describing a homeowner whose house has a huge picture window giving a wonderful view of lakes and mountains. The owner starts off by enjoying the view,but then he gets absorbed in some marks on the window. Fingerprint smudges,bird droppings,rainwater streaks. Soon he finds himself preoccupied with cleaning the window,obsessively looking for anything that might obscure the view. And so in time he scarcely considers the larger view and focuses instead on the minor things that might mark the window.

The religious experts of Jesus’ day had done just that. They looked at the law in great detail,but forgot to take the broader view of what the law sought to achieve: love and justice. It is not as if the details didn’t matter,it is just that they ought not to have marred the longer and deeper view. Then as now,legalism is an attitude that causes us to look at the picture window rather than through it. Keeping the window clean is not an end in itself,but the means by which we can go on admiring the greater view.

David Reay