Did Jesus Know?
“Hypocrites! 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. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” – Matthew 23:23-24 (NRSV)
Their tithes wouldn’t have seemed as insignificant to them as they were to Jesus. They gave a portion of what they had.
But they weren’t willing to apportion their privilege. They still wanted a singular grip on the means to justice. They wanted to be stingy in meting out mercy. Their faith was in themselves, their position in society, all the while patting themselves on the back for their “generosity.”
I wonder if Jesus could have predicted how hard it is to get people to tithe 2,000 years later. It seems nearly impossible to convince the faithful today that we are capable—required, even—to give a percentage of what we have. Suspicion of church, overstretched households, un- or underemployment, and just the novelty of this kind of life orientation stops so many of us.
Right about now, churches that claim Jesus are squabbling over tiny things, straining gnats of insignificance while swallowing the camels that allow for suffering in their own churches and in the surrounding community.
I wonder if Jesus knew how enormous a gnat can feel. How a camel can slip by unnoticed.
Maybe it’s a matter of shifting our sense of proportion. Following Jesus means that what is ours is calculated in proportion to the possibility that others can thrive. For Jesus, this meant money. But money given that does not work to end suffering is, in Jesus’ construct, wasted.
Thanks be to God that there is another way.
Teach me, God, to turn my attention where you would have it. Guide me, God, to my most generous self, always giving in and through your love. Amen.
Kaji Douša is the Senior Pastor of The Park Avenue Christian Church, a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, in New York City.