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March 19

Matthew 23, 23-24

Something to read

'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 practised without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!'
New Revised Standard Version

Something to think about

Jesus' picture of straining out gnats is one that is easily missed in the KJV. It's much clearer, though, in the modern translation, and leads us to imagine how we might dutifully pour our tea through a tea strainer to prevent any tealeaves getting into the cup, yet happily swallow something much larger and much more damaging to our health.

The underlying message is clear: faithfulness in the little things may sound commendable, but not if it's at the expense of the big issues.

Yet it's always tempting to focus on the smaller things, because they are usually achievable. And that seems to make a lot of sense, at least in the short term.

Isn't it better, say, to be conscientious in praying the Lord's Prayer every day than not to pray at all? Isn't it enough just to attend regular Sunday services and not worry too much about the wider life of the church? Either way, our spiritual lives are unlikely to flourish.

For us, as for the Pharisees, attending to matters of justice, mercy and faith, however inadequately, will help us out of that limiting, gnat-straining, camel-swallowing mentality.

Something to do

Look at one of the main stories in today's newspapers. Reflect on the forms of injustice that are or have been associated with it and think through what we can do about it.

Something to pray

'The Rock, his way is perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God, without deceit, just and upright is he' (Deuteronomy 32.3-4). Heavenly Father, thank you that your nature is to act justly. May we be faithful in the big issues, calling for justice for people who live under oppressive regimes and for those who live in poverty because of the unjust behaviour of the rich.

Today's contributor is the Rev Dr Paula Clifford, a former Head of Theology with Christian Aid, now Vicar of Minster Lovell (Oxon). 


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