July 13, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 11:42 (NRSV)
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.”
Many people in the time of Jesus sought to do all of the religious things just right. Sometimes they became so focused on the tiniest things that they neglected the big things, the things that matter most. Jesus said it was fine to care about religious rituals, but not if that meant neglecting things like God’s love and justice. As we seek to follow Jesus today, may we focus on what matters most to God.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
Several years ago, a friend of mine I’ll call Sandy moved into a new community. On her first Sunday in town, she decided to visit one of the local churches. Now, this was a conservative church in a fairly conservative town, so she dressed up, putting on one of her best suits. After the worship service, while she was attempting without much success to mingle on the patio, a woman from the church approached Sandy, apparently wanting to talk. Sandy was encouraged. Maybe this was a friendly church after all.
The woman introduced herself and learned Sandy’s name. So far, so good. But then the woman said in a very stern voice, “Young lady, woman wear skirts and dresses in this church. We don’t wear pants. If you’re going to join us, you’ll have to dress appropriately.” Sandy stood there, speechless. Not wanting to pick a fight, she thanked the woman, turned around and walked to her car, never to return again.
Now, depending on where you live, what kind of church you go to, and what sort of religious background you’ve had, you might find this story almost unbelievable in addition to being terribly sad. But, in my experience, most churches care an inordinate amount about things that really shouldn’t matter. If it’s not your clothing, it could be your way of worshiping, your ethnicity, or your political preferences. Now, in defense of churches, I’d add that “most churches” get mired in things that aren’t so important because, frankly, most Christians do.
Jesus, however, points to another way of being in a curious passage in Luke 11 about tithing, of all things.
The Old Testament law was clear about the fact that God’s people were to tithe on what their farms produced. It says in Leviticus 27:30, “All tithes from the land, whether the seed from the ground or the fruit from the tree, are the LORD’S; they are holy to the LORD.” A tithe was equal to one-tenth of the whole. So, if some grew ten bushels of wheat, that person set aside one bushel for the Lord.
The Pharisees were extremely zealous about keeping the law of God. In order to make extra sure they followed the law flawlessly, they expanded upon it, creating all sorts of specific rules that went beyond what was in the Torah. So, for example, no place in the law specifically required tithing of herbs and spices, such as “mint and rue and herbs of all kinds” (Luke 11:42). But it appears that the Pharisees had rules for such things (unless Jesus was simply being hyperbolic here, which is possible).
It’s a bit surprising that, in this passage, Jesus did not actually reject tithing as practiced by the Pharisees. He said they should not neglect things like tithing, even if they took things way too far. The main idea of devoting a tenth of your produce to God was a good one, according to Jesus. The problem was that the Pharisees focused so much attention on the minor details of legal observance that they completely forgot about the things that mattered most, in this case “justice and the love of God” (11:42).
I wonder how many times I have done this sort of thing. No, I’m not talking about tithing on the contents of our family’s spice rack. Nor am I admitting to telling a young woman she can’t wear pants to worship. But I am thinking about how I can get so wrapped up in being right about certain matters of faith that I overlook things like God’s justice and love. I am capable of arguing for my right points in a way that is fairly unloving. Moreover, I labor intensively to get my theology right, but sometimes fail to love my neighbor, not to mention my enemy. Or I can act as if God’s justice is of secondary importance, rather than something Jesus teaches us to value highly, following what we see throughout the Old Testament.
Though Jesus didn’t quote from the Old Testament, what he said in Luke 11:42 reminds me of what we read in the book of the prophet Micah. In the sixth chapter, someone is asking how best to worship God: “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:6-7). Micah responds with a classic, concise statement of what truly honors the Lord: “He 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 humble with your God?” Now there are actions worth focusing your life upon: doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.
Are you ever so worried about little things that you neglect the big things? Can you think of an example? Why are your priorities like that?
In what ways are you focusing on the justice and love of God?
If you were to prioritize God’s justice and love more than you do right now, what difference might this make in your life?
Ask the Lord how you might do something today as an expression of his justice and/or love. Then, do what God puts on your heart.
Lord Jesus, though I’m not concerned about tithing on my spices, I can get pretty obsessed about things that really don’t matter. And, in the process I can forget about what matters most to you. Forgive me, Lord, when I get my priorities out of balance.
Help me, I pray, to invest my life in what matters most, in loving you with all that I am and my neighbor as myself. Help me to express love for others by seeking to live according to your justice. As I do, may I never forget to love mercy and to walk humbly with you all the days of my life. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Reflection You’ll Probably Want to Skip
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.