Ears to Hear: Reflections on Holy Week, Tuesday
On Tuesday, Jesus spent time teaching the crowds. He spoke directly to the religious and the religious leaders (which in our modern context would faithful churchgoers and leaders). It can be tempting to not identify with the Pharisees but if you’ve been to church recently, you probably fit in that camp.
So, what did He teach just a few days before the crucifixion and resurrection? One of the more notable things was his observation that the religious of Israel were “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matt 23:24) It’s a memorable line because it seems like such a strange thing to say. So, what was He actually saying? According to the Old Testament law, a faithful believer was to be careful not to eat certain things. There are myriad reasons for the intense dietary laws of the Old Testament but suffice to say that the prohibitions flowed from the good heart of God for His people. Two of the things on the list of dietary restrictions were gnats and camels. It was common in that day to strain your drink to make sure that you didn’t ingest a gnat that accidently got in the pitcher of water or wine. The gnat was just a little thing and being so careful certainly didn’t keep with the spirit of the law. While the religious folks weren’t literally swallowing camels, the imagery is powerful.
Jesus was saying that people were focusing on doing the little, easier things but not the larger, harder, and more significant things. In other words, they were taking care of the gnats but still eating camels. In the verse right before the imagery of gnats and camels, Jesus suggests that the people were making offerings of spices but were neglecting justice, mercy, and righteousness. It is easy to focus on outward things but much harder to look at the things of the heart and much more significant.
Joan Chittister comments: “It is so easy to make cosmetic changes in the name of religion. It is so easy to make up rules and keep them so that we can feel good about doing something measurable in the spiritual life.” In the spiritual life, it is common to focus on the outward things. The outward things are visible and measurable and seemingly manageable. The things of the heart are often vague and mysterious and not controllable.
Indeed, it is in the heart where we experience a relationship with God and where we grow into all virtues that make our lives shine like Christ. That’s why Jesus will never simply let us settle for good behavior. He wants our hearts not our outward behavior. If He wanted that, He could have made us into automatons, robot like beings that simply did the right things. He desires a real relationship of love and justice and mercy.
While we might settle for the superficial, He always wants more for us. That’s why He walked with determination toward the cross … it is there that our hearts are given a second chance and the power to be transformed.
Where is your heart today? Have you spent time with Him … enjoying Him and worshipping Him and talking to Him from the heart? If not, take some time and share your heart with Him. Whatever is there, He will take it and shape it and transform it. It simply requires your time and trust.