The Pettiness of Light Living

“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!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:23-28

The Greek root of ‘hypocrite’ means ‘actor.’ Jesus denounced the ‘show’ of pretending to be virtuous, to care about important things like the law, to speak feigning conviction, while ‘behind the mask’ taking no concern for individuals, or deeper issues of justice, integrity, or compassion. He does not stand for ticking off a list of rituals when our heart is far from them. It is a shallow life that values checkmarks more than people, appearances more than character, things of this world more than the things of God who made the world.

Consider cumin compared to faithfulness, mint compared to mercy, a shiny clean cup against cruel greed. This seems foolish, and there is no reasonable comparison, yet we choose to spend our time pontificating about things of little significance and poisoning the atmosphere by nit-picking at others, and drain resources on things that have no lasting value and make no enduring difference in others’ lives. Expending energy on trifles and petty efforts while ignoring the loftier endeavors and ideals yields little spiritual or lasting fruit, and to this, our Redeemer says, “Woe!“. (Matthew 6:19-20)

We can find plenty of examples of others we may want to call out for being disingenuous or phony or shallow, but instead of pointing the finger at them, how do we measure up? If my everyday practices are light in substance, in service to others, in eternal significance, I need to look inside and determine where I am getting my nourishment. With what do I fill my mind, and therefore develop my perspective? What are my sources for information and instruction, and do they lead me closer to God or farther away? Does how I spend my time develop wisdom in the inner heart and zeal for ministry and virtue, or habits that drain me of joy and energy for what God has for me to do? Do my companions point me in the direction of the Lord and His truth, or to lean on my own understanding and strength? (Proverbs 3:3-6; 13:20; Matthew 7:3-5; Ephesians 3:14-19)

To what practices, proclivities, or preferences in my life would Jesus say, “Woe!”? Would I name them, repent, and ask Him to do what is necessary to change my default settings and elevate my living?

Mighty God, purify me from the inside out. Remove any tendency to pettiness and avoiding what really matters. You alone are worthy of my attention, affection, allegiance, and honor.

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