“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For 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)
Sometimes those two words are nothing more than the beginning of an excuse, but they are also powerful words that people of faith may feel or speak when seeking to live according to the teachings of Jesus.
Deuteronomy 21 says that a stubborn and rebellious son should be stoned to death by the elders of the city. Yes, but… Jesus told a story about a prodigal son who was forgiven and welcomed home.
“Thou shall not commit adultery…” seems pretty clear. Again, Deuteronomy says that both the man and the woman who engage in this sin should be stoned to death. Yes, but Jesus forgave a woman caught in adultery, encouraging her to change her ways.
Jesus introduced an interesting word into the conversation in Matthew 23: “weightier”. In other words, some things seem to weigh more in God’s mind. Isn’t that what is indicated in Micah 6:8,
“ He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Wait a minute! What about the right way to baptize people? What about drinking alcohol versus abstinence? What about proper gender roles, especially keeping women in their “biblically-instructed place”? What about all those things that churches have historically split over, and Christians have argued with one another about as if their very salvation depended upon it?
There are many friends of mine who have different (sometimes slightly, sometimes vastly) opinions on finer points of theologically intricate matters. It’s been my experience that these differences need not keep me from doing justice, loving kindness, or walking humbly with God. Nor do these differences weigh enough to keep me from liking them, associating with them, learning from them, or worshiping with them.
Do I believe they’re mistaken? Yes, in many instance…but: I think I’ll stick with the heavy stuff, believing that Jesus would want me to direct my time, energy, and attention toward the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faith.