Religion sees the trees but misses the forest

When you’re in religion something funny happens to your eyes. You pay attention to the tiniest detail but miss the big picture. You see every leaf on every branch, but you miss the forest. You pay attention to the smallest stokes in the law but miss the heart and intent of it. In Matthew 23, Jesus rails on the Pharisees for doing this very thing.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”

Jesus is not against tithing. He’s all for it. It’s just that religious people will tithe out of their spice rack but neglect justice and mercy! Jesus uses a humorous pun to drive this home. He says, you strain a qualma (gnat – smallest unclean animal) but you swallow a galma (camel – largest unclean animal). The words sound similar and would have likely stirred the listeners to consider the absurdity of religion. He says, you’re the kind of people who will strain out a gnat if it falls in your cup, but you’ll swallow a camel!

Religion does that all the time. For instance, John 18 gives us this great detail that helps us see this. In John 18, the religious leaders have unjustly accused Jesus, brought him up on false charges, had him stand a sham trial before a kangaroo court, beat him, and paraded him to Pilate to slaughter him. Then listen to this:

Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.

They were getting ready to kill God, but made sure they didn’t enter a Gentile home lest they become unclean! They murdered God while making sure they weren’t “defiled” before Him.

When we’re religious, we can be the nastiest, angriest, most bitter, condemning, selfish people in the world…but we don’t smoke or swear so we’re all set. It’s absurd.  The trees are important, but don’t miss the forest. The details are significant, but let’s not miss the point.


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