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The Day After

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The Day After

(This is a little longer than usual, but please stay with me – I promise there’s a point!)

Cream or cookie? When you’re eating an Oreo, which part is your favorite? One of their commercials illustrates this dilemma perfectly:

 
 

This highlights, in an albeit hyperbolic way, how people can take one rule (like no talking in the library) and make it the most important thing, at the expense of all others. It’s a humorous look at the length we will sometimes go in following the rules.

Jesus understood this humor. He, in fact, used it himself in the Gospel of Matthew. As he is addressing the Pharisees, he tells them this:

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!
— Matthew 22:23-24

I have always appreciated Jesus’ sense of humor here. It’s more of an “Ooh” moment than a “Ha ha” moment, one of those comments that’s funny but hits a little too close to home. Jesus is pointing out to the Pharisees how misplaced their righteousness is. They are extremely concerned with following every letter of the law, part of which included tithing your crops (“One-tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain from the fields or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord and must be set apart to him as holy.” Lev. 27:30). However, garden herbs such as mint, dill or cumin would not be grown in any real quantity; Biblical commentator William Barclay notes, “Only those who were superlatively meticulous would tithe the single plants of the kitchen garden.” And yet, this is what the Pharisees were focused on. Meanwhile, the important parts of the law, the major tenets such as justice, mercy, and faith, were getting neglected. This is where the humor comes in. Jesus compares what they are doing here to straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel. Both of these were unclean to eat in the eyes of the law, so Jesus is showing the absurdity of going to such great lengths to make sure a gnat doesn’t end up in your water but totally missing a camel floating around in there!

The election is finally over, and some of you are excited, some of you are disappointed, and some of you are just relieved that you don’t have to see another political commercial. On this “Day After,” my question for us is, “Now what? How are we going to make sure there are no camels floating in our water?” As Kingdom people called to make a Kingdom difference, how do we create an environment where the Kingdom of Heaven is ushered in? How do we make sure we’re not so focused on the little things that we fail to see the big things? The prophet Isaiah dealt with this in Chapter 58. Here’s what God says to the people of Israel:

My people Israel act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me. ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ I will tell you why! It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
— Isaiah 58

In other words, living out the Kingdom here on earth every day is far more important than fasting for fasting’s sake or tithing the very smallest of herbs. Those things tend to be our way of trying to get in God’s good book and win his favor. It’s simply checking the boxes and waiting on the blessing. “I’ve done all that you’ve required of me, God. Aren’t you impressed?”

Here’s the Deal: Whether it’s the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament or Jesus in the New Testament, the message for us is the same: We honor and please God as we love like he loves, as we actively pursue justice and righteousness, fight for those who cannot fight for themselves, show mercy and compassion to those in need, and shine the light of Jesus into the darkness of people’s lives so they might find salvation and healing. Today when we woke up, our nation had elected a new President, but Jesus remains our King, and he is still calling us to live as Kingdom people. For us to live like this, for us to usher in this Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven, it matters not who is in the White House, who has the majority in Congress, or who makes up the Supreme Court. All that matters is what we do as Jesus’ disciples. As Jesus is in the Upper Room near the end of his life, he gives one last directive:

“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”

Good enough for me, I think I’ll start there. How about you?