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Without Neglecting the Others

Quick:  Form a picture in your mind of Jesus.
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Got one?  Is he touching a leper?  Is he smiling broadly, surrounded by smiling children?  Is he on the cross?  Of course all of these and more would be accurate, but any single picture is incomplete.

I wonder if anyone formed a picture of Jesus clearing out the temple court.  Or looking around in anger and sharply rebuking those who are opposing him.  Or sitting on his throne and telling those on his left to depart from him.

It was one of those sharply worded rebukes that got me thinking.

“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.”  (Matthew 23:23)

No doubt you’ve read articles and heard talks on this verse.  The first lesson is getting priorities right—not elevating small things above much more important things.  But make sure you notice:  Jesus tells the hypocrites that they do need to make sure to do the small things as well!  He does not say to forget about the herbs—they are specifically not to let that lapse.

This isn’t the only time Jesus confronts people to “not neglect the others”.  In his letter to the church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7), Jesus commends the church for doing such a good job in insisting on truth and not allowing erroneous teaching to take hold.  This is good and absolutely right—Jesus says so.

Do make use of your strengths, but not at the expense of other things you also need to attend to.

However, in their zeal they had lost the loving environment that Jesus also wants to see.  Note: not either one at the expense of the other.  As we read on we see that the churches in Pergamum (2:12-17) and Thyatira (2:18-29) had the opposite problem.

They were welcoming, to the extent of tolerating both false doctrine and immorality, and Jesus has very strong words for  them.  Ephesus he threatens to abolish as a church.  Pergamum he threatens to wage war against.  Thyatira he threatens to strike dead.

Jesus does not mess around!  It’s very easy, and I suspect just about all of us do, think of ourselves as being on Jesus’s side in his confrontations with the Pharisees and others.  Are we truly sure that we are doing what we “ought to have doneand “not neglecting the others”?

Are we rigorous about the truth and maintaining a loving and welcoming atmosphere?  Jesus never presents parts of his teaching as optional, sort of “if you have time…”  He always expects us to “not neglect the others”.  And therefore gives us this challenge:  Do make use of your strengths, but not at the expense of other things you also need to attend to.  Just because one aspect of our walk comes easy to us, we can never lean on that and figure we’re covered, so we really don’t need to worry about “the others” that don’t some so easy.

Just take the specific example of tithing the herbs.  What was the point of the tithes?  It was to support the Levites, and also to feed the poor.  The Pharisees were making significant charitable gifts!  The system they operated is what we would call an NGO today.

An outside observer would say that the Jewish people were far more compassionate and generous toward widows and others in need, than any other society you could name.  And they didn’t just hand out sacks of beans.  They gave a tenth of everything, even including the spices to make the food delicious.

Jesus always provokes us to examine ourselves

What they were doing was right, Jesus says they should keep on doing it.  But they failed to do “the others”, they didn’t even see what they were missing.  They ought to have known better, hence the sharp rebuke.

None of us wants to be in the position of those Pharisees, nor the believers in Ephesus, Pergamum or Thyatira.  Given our human failings, it seems almost inevitable that we will be missing something that we ought not to miss.  Jesus always provokes us to examine ourselves.  And he gives us brothers and sisters to interact with, learn from, grow with.  He and the Father collaborate to give us the Word to instruct us.

And we have the outstanding gift of Jesus’s own example.  He did welcome the children and touch the lepers, and die for us.  His kindness, his compassion, his love, his welcome of sinners, are astounding.  And he didn’t neglect the others.

He is the one who rebukes, corrects, shakes out of complacency, and who will be the judge who sends away those on the left.  It is emphatically not our role to be a judge of others.  This aspect of Jesus’s example is to be applied to examining ourselves.  What would Jesus tell me that I ought to continue doing, without neglecting the others—and what might those others be?

Love, Paul

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