The Weightier Matters
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, 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.” – Matthew 23:23
Jesus was quick to spot religious hypocrisy. The Pharisees have got a bad name because of Jesus’ criticisms of them, but in truth they were the ones Jesus had the most affinity for. They were serious, pious and scrupulous keepers of Torah.
What Jesus condemned them for was that they had a skewed focus on what was truly important to God. Yes, they kept the religious law down to the smallest detail, but they neglected what Jesus called “the weightier matters.” In their preoccupation with rules and rituals they were forgetting God’s passion for justice and mercy, and his call to faith, not religious observance.
He told them, “You strain gnats and swallow camels!”
Given his constant critique of such misplaced focus it is tragically ironic how much hypocrisy goes on today in Jesus’s name. Of course it is always easier to spot a religious hypocrite when you are not looking in the mirror.
The “good religious people” in any age are always at risk of such hypocrisy. It is easy to go eagerly to church to get our souls manicured while walking by the beggar at our gate. Easier still to let the societal systems that put the beggar there unchallenged.
The ancient prophets were like the “canaries in the coal mine” that warned of impending societal danger. They preached God’s righteous passion for justice, mercy and faith. Jesus echoes their words when he tells the good religious people of his time (and ours) not to neglect these weightier matters.
Save us from being hypocrites, O God. Grant us a passion like yours for justice, mercy and faith.
Richard L. Floyd is Pastor Emeritus of First Church of Christ (UCC) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A writer and author, his most recent publications are Romans, Parts 1 and 2 (with Michael S. Bennett), new titles in the “Listen Up!” Bible Study Series. He blogs at richardlfloyd.com.