“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” Luke 11.42This week, as we continue through Luke 11, we are going to be looking at Jesus’ first “Woe” to the leadership of Israel in His day. I believe that for us, as followers of Jesus today, this passage serves as a warning of what type of religious environment not to participate in producing.
First I want to look at this word: “woe.” It is a declaration of impending judgment. But this is not necessarily about an eternal judgment. Jesus here is most likely not referring to the modern Christian idea of Hell, but rather to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, which would take place in 70 A.D. He is referring to the destruction of an entire religious system. That system was infested with religious cancer, and if things did not change, it would be done away with. The picture of God and His character that was being presented to the world by that religious system was the exact opposite of what was really true about God. This is not to say that there is not an ultimate judgment, but that in this passage, Jesus is not talking about the ultimate judgment per say.
Something else we need to understand is that Jesus’ “woes” in these passages were not about inevitable doom. Most of Biblical Prophecy is NOT predictive but rather prescriptive. Follow closely: The Greeks held an “inevitable” view of prophecy. They sought out oracles to tell them their future. Their idea was that the future was fixed. They were fatalistic; that is, they believed things would happen as they were predicted, no matter what. They viewed prophecy as predictive. (We are in danger of doing this today as well.) This was not the Jewish understanding of prophecy. On the whole, God, through the Hebrew prophets used prophecy not primarily as predictive but as prescriptive. Let me explain. God often, in prophecy, is simply sharing what is going to happen if the present course is not changed. On the whole, when God would say that something was going to happen, it was so people would change their behavior and so that what was prophesied would not happen. We can see this exemplified in Jesus’ words to Peter about his future denial. Once Jesus said that Peter would deny Him three times, Peter did not have to do it. The whole reason Jesus shared this with Peter was so that Peter would change his course and the denial would never take place. (See also Jeremiah 18:5-9 for another example.) The Jews did not view prophecy as predictive per say, as the Greeks did, but rather as prescriptive. Now, this is not to say the prophecy is never predictive, but rather simply stating that most of the time it is not predictive. This point, I believe cannot be overemphasized. Today, we have many folks trying to figure out every last detail of end time events, pouring over the Book of Revelation and Daniel, trying to pinpoint the chronology of the closing events of this world’s history. And honestly, it is almost like spiritual caffeine. It gets you all pumped up at first, but then when it wears off it leaves you lower spiritually than when you first began. The point of all prophecy is to know, not the exact order of all future events, but rather, to know Him in whom you have believed, so that no matter how things end up, you are in a reconciling relationship with God.
Lastly this week, I want to focus on what it was that Jesus actually condemned in the Pharisees’ religious system. This first woe is centered on their focus on externals (which we have looked at in the past five eSights) and their “majoring” in the minors. You see, they were producing a religious environment that focused on the “dos and the don’ts” of behaviors, which led them to place great significance on matters of little importance while giving little emphasis to matters of significant importance. In short, their focus led them to a place where they could not see the forest for the trees. The example Jesus gave was that they were giving a tenth of their mint, rue and other garden herbs, which held a very low—if not the lowest—economic, “marketplace” value in their culture. The economic value was almost insignificant, but they were very strict in paying a tenth on this amount, though it was so small. At the same time, they were ignoring justice toward others and love toward God. You see, they were giving great attention to detail in things that really were of minor significance, while they were completely ignoring the big stuff.
Now I want to be careful here. There is a sense in which all sin is sin, in which all things are equal. This is especially true under the “imposed” paradigm. (For more on this topic, see the presentation on our website, entitled Intrinsic or Imposed.) But under the intrinsic paradigm, not all sins are equal. Not all sins set in motion the same intrinsic destructive force. Some sins cause more intrinsic damage than others. The point here is that the Pharisees were creating a religious environment where things of minor significance were focused on with great conscientiousness, while things of great significance (acting justly toward other people; being the guardians of fairness and equality, so that no one was violated; and holding love toward God as the sum total of all they were about) were grossly ignored.
I want to be clear. Jesus was not condemning their great conscientiousness. Rather, He was condemning their directing greater conscientiousness to matters of little importance while ignoring things that were of infinite importance.
One of the insights Jesus gives us is that He brings to us a sense of perspective and balance. He had a sense of prioritizing things. He taught that if you love God and love your neighbor, you are going to fulfill the whole law. Jesus could distinguish the center from the parameter. (And He largely ignored external behaviors and dealt almost exclusively with matters of the heart.) To the Pharisees, everything was equally important. But to Jesus, there was, again, perspective.
Today, as followers of Jesus, we, too, must create spiritual environments that major in the majors, and minor in the minors. We must produce—in light of the last few eSights—environments that focus on the heart rather than trying to control people’s outward behavior. But we must also focus on matters that are truly major with the same perspective that Jesus possessed. We must begin to use the same sense of prioritizing that Jesus demonstrated. And what is the most significant matter—also the deepest matter of the heart—that we can focus our attention on? I believe the matter of greatest importance—one which Jesus spent the majority of His effort trying to affect—is that matter of answering the questions, “What is your heart-level understanding and picture of God’s Character and what He thinks and feels toward you? What kind of person is God; and given this, what is in His inmost heart toward you?” Only when this is answered will we be able to help others see the truth about who our Heavenly Father is, too.
We will continue with verse 43 next week.
Keep living in love and loving like Christ.
I love you, guys; now go build the kingdom.