Sometimes in reading the gospels I am really convinced that Jesus was, as St. Paul tells us in the letter to the Philippians, fully human. On some occasions, Jesus gets really frustrated, as today in Matthew 23:23-26, when he takes the “Pharisees and hypocrites” to task for their behavior. No one could miss his point, but some of the images he uses to make those points are downright funny! I can just see him gathering steam as he goes into his condemnatory statement. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, he says. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin (really lightweight spices) and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. But these you should have done, without neglecting the others. Sounds like a reasonable speech so far, but wait for it…Here comes the punch line in case they missed the point: Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!
Just picture trying to take that sentence literally. Imagine the exasperation that caused Jesus to resort to such an extreme. It was the injustice of the powerful toward the “lowly ones” that he saw, not unlike some of what is going on today in many quarters. Some days, when the weather is so muggy that bugs abound, I need to remind myself to keep my mouth closed when I’m outside so I don’t inadvertently swallow a bug. It’s more of a mentally unpleasant experience than a difficult physical one but always distasteful nevertheless. Multiply it maybe a thousand times or more to get the size of a camel and it’s easy to see the extent of injustice of which Jesus speaks. No one should be allowed that level of power over another, and Jesus knew it.
May we call out injustice wherever we see it in our society. May we also beware of swallowing camels in our dealings with each other and even try to avoid the gnats of everyday living as we choose to walk the path where the constant measure of things is love.