Jesus is the word-picture Jedi. No one commanded communication so colorfully. But he didn’t do it to merely entertain. There is substance; an eternally-mattering goal. Often that goal was piercing.
The seven woes, recorded in Matthew 23, are no exception. “White-washed tombs.” “Serpents, brood of vipers.” “Twice as much a son of hell.” “Blind guides.” But one of the more tragically comedic is verse 24: “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”
The context is Jesus’ final rebuke of Israel’s first century religious leaders. The Pharisees felt good about themselves for meticulously tithing from these inconsequential herbs. “Here you go, God. We spent half the day measuring this out; a pinch of dill; a fraction of a mint leaf; and a mili-teaspoon of cumin.” They spooned out spices from under a microscope, while willfully neglecting central things in the word of God. To be sure, Jesus did not rebuke observance of the word of God, but majoring on minors to the neglect of majors. Gnat-straining and camel-gorging.
Gnats and camels were the smallest and largest ceremonially unclean animals. Jesus picks the smallest creature to the eye; a gnat. These tiny bugs would fly into a wine container. So, people would strain them out by pouring the wine through a permeable cloth. It speaks of meticulous activity to remove the smallest little bugs that you could barely see.
It’s a jarring word picture with sharp humor; a guy giving much effort to filtering out semi-microscopic bugs. But then there is a ogrely, mangy camel standing next to him. Israeli camels weigh in over 1000 lbs. And while scrupulously picking out gnats, he then grabs that desert beast and stuffs it into his mouth.
Jesus’ message is clear: there is a certain type of sin that is selective about obedience; majoring on minors and minoring about majors. Hypocrisy is proud of itself for doing certain moral things, but neglecting big things. “Yeah, I’ll do this thing for God, but not that.” It’s an avoiding of lesser sins, but committing larger ones.
If you have struggled like I have at times, perhaps you have found yourself selectively obeying in a way that majors on minors and minors on majors. Are you a gnat-straining, camel-gorger? Here are a few examples for consideration.