Do you every wonder if everyone else around you is crazy? Or maybe I’m the one who’s totally off base? It’s sometimes hard to know if my perspective is warped or are the others around me the deluded ones?
We all seem so right in our own eyes. As I’m reading through Matthew I’m struck by the Pharisees. They really thought they had the corner on truth. They even used Scripture like a weapon to defend themselves. Yet, Jesus took issue with them more ferociously than any other group He encountered. Does it ever seem like the church today sometimes seems more in line with the Pharisee way of thinking (“I am right, everyone who disagrees with me must be wrong! I can prove it with chapter and verse.”)
Jesus has some strong words for them, “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. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24)
I love how Jesus makes it clear – we can become so self-deceived that we can swallow a camel and not even realize it! He goes on to point out how these religious leaders are so focussed on the outside, that they have missed the condition of their own hearts. “For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy – full of greed and self-indulgence.” (25) It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t take issue with the words of the Pharisees. He even says earlier in chapter 23, “So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.”
Jesus isn’t disagreeing with what they espouse (the law is not bad) but with how they have fooled themselves into thinking they are applying it. They are missing the bigger picture of God’s heart behind His laws. I couldn’t help but connect my reading today with James 1. I just finished memorizing this chapter and was particularly struck by a repeated phrase in verses 22 and 26.
James 1:22 “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yoursleves.”
James 1:26 “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.”
This is a danger in my life. I can get one-sided, see things from my perspective only, talk really spiritual, but miss the greater picture of Christ’s gospel – actually living through Christ’s power the message of justice, mercy, and faith. These three things Christ mentioned as greatest in Matthew 23. The very things the Pharisees missed because they were focussed on a potential gnat.
As I think about all the noise in my head today – I pray God’s Spirit will give me a lens of truth to view others, myself, and my God so that I won’t be fooling myself. I don’t want to be like the Pharisees who taught it, talked it, and judged others with it, but failed to live it themselves.
Show me God where I’m fooling myself today – pride, greed, self-righteousness…. shine a caution light into my soul with your truth so I won’t be like the person who glances in the mirror, sees myself, walks away, and forgets what I look like. (James 1:24) That’s almost as crazy as swallowing a camel.