The Main Dish or Just the Seasonings?
Matt. 23:23 “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. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!
The Pharisees and scribes were focused on the smallest, legalistic details of life. They wanted to make sure that people would know how to properly tithe on the herbs that grew in their gardens. The time and energy involved in tithing on seasonings could be exhausting. The result was such a focus on the seasonings that the main dish was altogether ignored. The kingdom was about justice, mercy and faith — this was the substantive food!
Hilary of Poitiers reminds us, “God laughs at the superficial diligence of those who measure cucumbers. God laughs at our attempts to swallow camels, as if the sins of avoidance were less serious than the sins of consumption.”
Tomorrow will be Thanksgiving Day in the United States and many families will celebrate by cooking a turkey with all kinds of side dishes. But what would happen if we simply showed up with all the seasonings for the dinner? Yes, I’ll bring the salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme! Maybe someone else could bring the cinnamon and nutmeg. What a boring dinner that would be! And yet that’s what the religious life of the scribes and Pharisees looked like!
Let’s be honest that we might find ourselves in the very same place. The meat of the spiritual life is to focus on justice, mercy and faith. Christians are to seek justice in this world, a justice that looks at the big picture — the turkey — and not just on the salt and pepper! The Pharisees were so proud of observing the very letter of the law, and sometimes we are as well! But what is the big picture — what is the main dish? Justice challenges us to have missionary eyes which will explore the context and greater influences which create a particular environment and whether there are ways in which Christians should intervene. It helps us then to focus on the issue of mercy or compassion which is borne out of our faith. It is then a faith which is brought to those around us who suffer from injustice so that they, too, may experience the mercy of God.
As we contemplate this season of Thanksgiving, may we not just show up with the seasonings but focus on the main dish! May we seek his face, wisdom and guidance as we desire to walk as servants in his kingdom.
Lord, please help me to keep my focus on the big picture as you lead. Amen.