Jesus denounced the religious leaders (in Matthew 23) because they emphasized things at the expense of more important things.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.”
A very common mistake among religious people like me is to emphasize certain things at the expense of more important things.
What are the “more important” things?
Kindness and empathy are more important than scrupulous attention to detail. The Pharisees in their official capacity as experts insisted that everyone must obey everything in the law (vv. 1-4). But they forgot that the accumulated weight of these demands was unbearable.
Humility is more important than performing deeds of Christian service. The Pharisees focused on praying frequently and teaching the law (vv. 5-12). But they were proud of the title of “teacher” and forgot that they were equal as brothers and sisters under only one Father.
Giving sincere offerings and experiencing God’s presence are more important than exact religious form. The Pharisees made a great point of respecting God’s altar and temple (vv. 16-22). But they forgot what made the altar and the temple holy.
Justice, mercy, and faith are more important than precise obedience. The Pharisees were careful to tithe 10% of all income, even down to the tiniest income from their herb gardens (vv. 23-24). But they forgot the more important gifts.
Inner purity is more important than outward appearance. The Pharisees carefully washed their hands and gave great attention to their outward appearance (vv. 25-28). But they forgot what makes a person truly acceptable.
Complete openness to God’s truth for you today is more important than your historic, religious ancestry. The Pharisees honored the prophets that their ancestors had killed (vv. 29-36). But they forgot that it was very possible to make the same mistake by killing Jesus.
So I want to remember that:
- warmly greeting a visitor at church and making them as comfortable as possible is more important than wearing the right church clothes.
- graciously supplying a warm meal to a guest is more important than displaying good housekeeping skills.
- paying attention to my family’s limitations is more important than attending every religious function.
- building strong family bonds with my wife and children is more important than trying to please my extended family and church associates.
- honesty and openness to God today is more important than adhering to historic Anabaptist norms.
- advocating for orphans and visiting my widowed mother is more important than keeping all the lifestyle rules in the church covenant.
- private, fervent prayer is more important than leading songs and Bible studies at church.
- graciously granting the benefit of the doubt (to myself and others) is more important than validating the authenticity of the position.
- sharing peaceful, relaxed and loving family moments is more important than insisting that my son cleans his room.
- earning an honest and ample income for my family is more important than blogging or hobbies.
- attending to my personal spiritual and emotional health is more important than fine-tuning the collective spiritual awareness of my local congregation.
Note: this list of things that I want to remember is MY list, not YOUR list. I expect my list to evolve over time, shaped by life and by the Holy Spirit. What is on your list?
Good exercise: identify something that you have strong feelings about and ask yourself if there is something more important.