We are surrounded by holiness codes. I grew up believing that Christianity was all about behavior: We don’t swear, drink, smoke, dance, play cards, watch TV, go to movies, listen to rock and roll, do drugs, have sex outside of marriage, etc. Instead, we read our Bibles, pray, go to church, tithe our income, vote Republican, and hate liberals in general and the alphabet soup contingent (LGBTQIAPK) in particular. Ironically, I have noticed that New Age Spirituality also has holiness codes: Don’t shop at Walmart, don’t eat at McDonalds, don’t use pesticides or herbicides, etc.. Instead, you must eat organic, vegetarian, gluten & lactose-free, recycle, drive an electric car, meditate, go to yoga, do tai chi, vote Democrat, and right now it is quite fashionable to hate Republicans in general and President Trump in particular.
I love this insightful quip from renowned Christian author, Philip Yancey, “As one person told me, ‘Christians get very angry toward other Christians who sin differently than they do.’” I’d personally paint with a broader brush and suggest that this is a generally human trait. We set up our sliding scale of sin in which the sins of others are dire indeed, and our own sin is on the insignificant end of the spectrum. I’m not sure that this makes us feel as good as we think it does. There is a small and diminishing reward for this behavior—and it leaves us feeling as hollow as a breakfast of fruit loops that you purchased at Walmart. It tasted good going down, but there is precious little nutrition to feed your body’s needs.
Matthew 23 might be one of the most scathing rebukes that Jesus issued. It could curl the hair on your toes just reading it. In verse 23, Jesus notes that there were some people like us who were tithing their mint and other spices—imagine that! Talk about a holiness code! You drop a bag of oregano into the offering plate on Sunday—with 1/10th of what you purchased. I suppose that Snowmass Chapel could use some oregano for a nice Easter Sunday Quiche…. But I digress. The spice tithe was not so much the problem as the fact that these dear people had neglected what Jesus calls, “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” He compares it to straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.
And as is so often the case with Jesus, that’s where the other shoe falls. Because just as I’m about to laugh at those people tithing their parsley, He brings it home with the issues of justice, mercy & faith. Oh yes, I love receiving justice for the wrongs done to me and mercy for the wrongs I have done to others. But what have I done to make sure that others receive justice for the wrongs that I have done to them and mercy for the wrongs that they have done to me? How much time did I spend so far today on my faith? Okay, just stop right there. Let’s not talk about that—I want to get back to talking about those horrible people who sin differently than I do. I want to strain out the gnats and then build up my spice collection to make that camel a little bit easier to swallow. I’ll have my camel done medium-rare and gluten-free, thank you very much.
A wonderfully insightful revisit to Matthew 23. Thanks Paul !
Thank you, Brian, heaven only knows where these ideas come from, but it’s so encouraging to hear from you! ~Paul