One of the things that I love about the gospels is the vignettes depicting Jesus reaching out in an unexpected way directly into the life of another human. According to the authors, Jesus had a habit of not only honoring the humanity of the other but of also elevating the humanity of the other. We encounter such meetings over and over again in a myriad of ways in the gospels.
A touch of a hand;
An affirming word;
A simple blessing;
A forgiving look;
A servant's action.
It's almost as if Jesus took seriously the scripture he quoted to the learned men who had gathered in the synagogue to hear the young rabbi. We are told that Jesus was handed the scroll and read these words from Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." He lived fully into these words and charged those who would follow him to do the same.
And yet, if you look at the church for very long today, you might see and hear a different story. We have a long history of elevating doctrine, dogma, creeds, disciplines, and piety above humans. We have a tendency to forget that within our debates about what is right and what is wrong are humans. Humans who long to be loved, accepted, encouraged, and honored simply because they are human.
In the gospel of Matthew, we have another vignette. Here we see Jesus confronting the religious leaders of his day. He told the gathered crowd that these leaders "tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them." (Matthew 23:4). Jesus then goes on to give a scathing critique of the manner in which the religious leaders exercised their faith all the while forgetting the call of God toward the other in their midst. "You tithe mint, dill, and cumin, 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. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!" (23:23-24).
And this, I fear, is our legacy, too. The weightier matters have been neglected because of our insatiable desire to be right. We proof text and speak louder in hopes of proving that the camel we are swallowing is the "right kind" of camel. Sure, we slice it up into smaller bites and dunk it in syrupy religious jargon in an attempt to make it more palatable. But it makes no difference. In the end, we are still swallowing the camel.
There is a different way. It is time for us, for me, to start following the call of the one to whom we claim to be devoted; the call toward humanity; the call toward justice and mercy and faith. That is when the church is at its best. That is when the spirit of the Christ becomes tangible in our world.
It is time to stop swallowing the camel.