“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, 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.”
~Matthew 23:23 (NRSV).
From this imperative negative Jesus is imploring us all to a faith-life that doesn’t get the wood lost for the trees.
There are so many dimensions of faith and theology that we’re all tempted to take our personal ‘bent’ on things and polarise onto quite focused areas of God—to the neglect of the bigger picture.
For instance, in this day and age—like any other—there are those who see God only mainly through prophecy or healing or tradition or the charismata (the list is endless)—they may even become experts at these; the detriment is the loss of a fuller faith, and certainly to an inclusive faith that holds the proceeding as ‘weightier’ than all the portents of theology put together.
The Weightier Commands
The first item I think of related to biblical justice (and for that matter, mercy too) is the injunction proclaimed in Micah 6:8:
“[God] 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?” (NRSV)
Justice is one of the key tests of faith in any believer. Indeed, there are many proverbs also that indicate the amount someone ‘has’ God at heart by virtue, simply, of how justly they deal with others, and in context—particularly—with regard to self justice.
Mercy, or more simply put, compassion, is the right identification with the suffering world in our midst. A person who’s merciful doesn’t skate away from the ugly truth; they own it. They see a messy world but it doesn’t turn them off.
They use this as motivational impetus to get in and get dirty, supporting the needy as much as they can.
Faith is manifest patience. We cannot get past that this is an exercise of practical discernment and the outworking of belief. To have faith means to trust, and accept, and be patient—these are all doing things.
We simply cannot please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6).
I don’t think Jesus was merely limiting his list of weightier commands to these (justice, mercy and faith). There are, of course, many others of equal rectitude.
It also needs to be said that God, who is totally impartial, does not take kindly to us prioritising commands. The moral commands are weighty in this context, but every command of God—as spiritually divined by what he asks of us, which is biblically-based, or as placed in God’s Word—must be obeyed with equal fervour.
Unlike the Pharisees in First Century life, we do not pick and choose how much energy we put into our obedience or what shape that takes.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.