Matt 23:23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
The more important things.
This passage reminds me of Micah 6:8 which also talks about doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. These were central themes of Jesus’ ministry. In Luke 4 Jesus says that he has even been anointed by the Holy Spirit to do these things. (Luke 4:14-21)
The important point that I see from these words of Jesus is that doing justice and loving mercy cannot be separated from our walk with God. It is the Spirit of God who empowers and enables us to do the work of God. As we submit our lives to God we become more like the Christ of the Gospels who was the friend of sinners, who loved them without fear or favour in a society that ignored the most vulnerable.
It is also important to see that Jesus does not condemn the practices of the Pharisees on their own. What they were doing was significant, but not as significant as the ‘more important matters of the law.’ Let us not be preoccupied with minor matters in our churches, but be preoccupied with following Jesus into the margins of our broken world, to bring healing, love and mercy.
Tim Costello is a lawyer, pastor, social justice advocate and former CEO of World Vision Australia.