Straining at Gnats

It was my first church board meeting as new pastor. I had arrived at mid-point of that church’s extensive building and renovation program. There were major decisions and fund raising ahead for church leaders and here I was, a brand new pastor moderating my first meeting with them.

And then the Great Paper Towel Conundrum arose: “What kind of paper towels should we use in the new bathrooms – the white paper towels or the beige ones?”

The ensuing discussion covered the various merits of both white and beige paper towels. And then the possibility of automated hand dryers was suggested. At first, I thought the elders were playing a practical joke on me as their new pastor, but the debate threatened to become heated. White or beige or automated?

Just as I was about to interrupt, one wise elder spoke – “I don’t care. How are we going to raise that other million dollars?” Things got quiet, and I realized that debating paper towels was easier than facing the bigger challenges — raising money, renovating facilities, and, most important, faithful mission and ministry.

Don’t get me wrong, someone needs to attends to life’s details – efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly hand drying methods, for instance. Sometimes, God IS in the details.

But often, we miss the mark on the most important matters.

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A parishioner from a conflicted family once shared her mother’s obsession with keeping a clean, spotless house. “For years, she rode us constantly about any little mess,” the woman remembered. “She could spot a small stain on the rug, but lost sight of us children. I wish she could have lived with a little mess and given her family more of her attention.”

With the Kingdom of God imminent, God’s servants and spiritual leaders need not major in the minors. Often, the weightier matters of justice, mercy, faithfulness CAN be neglected, receiving short shrift.

Jesus confronts those missing the mark: Woe to you hypocritical faith leaders! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

Not the only time the Lord uses hyperbole to point out hypocrisy, as the Pharisees were scrupulous in minutiae and overlooked essential truths.

Any of us can focus on filtering out gnats and end up with a camel on our dinner plate. In truth, we see this in each other every day.

The refrain from a hymn comes to mind: “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, Lest we miss Thy Kingdom’s goal”

As we consider our service to God and one another, the Lord’s words remind us of our calling to take up the weightier matters, the righteous requirements. Our prayer remains: Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, Lest we miss Thy Kingdom’s goal.

What are these “weightier matters?”

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Hold the camel.