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In Luke 11:42-44, Jesus issues a series of ‘woes’ (or warnings) against the Pharisees, who were a group of highly religious, devout Jewish people. They were also religious leaders, so these woes are issued against both those who think of themselves as highly religious and against those who are occupy leadership positions in the church (including both clergy and laypeople).
Today, we focus on just Luke 11:42:
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.
Jesus draws a contrast between tithing (specifically tithing of food, but we can apply it equally to tithing of money) and justice (which can be considered the love of neighbour) and the love of God.
Jesus draws this contrast frequently in the Gospels. It is the contrast between the inner (heart) life and the outer (public) life. He repeatedly calls for alignment between these two, and he speaks out particularly harshly against those who emphasise the outer life and neglect the inner life.
The story of the widow’s mite in Luke 21:1-4 illustrates this very nicely:
As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
While outwardly, the rich gave more money than the widow, they gave only a tiny percent of what they had, while the little she gave was all she had. The percentage of what is given is more important than the absolute amount that is given. The motivation for giving is more important than the absolute amount given. The external appearance of the money is not important; rather, the inner heart out of which the money is given is what is important to Jesus.
Jesus also emphasises social justice in this passage, as well as love of God. In Luke 10:27, Jesus answers the question about what we must do to inherit eternal life with the Great Commandment:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
This vertical and horizontal love is absolutely foundational to what it means to be an authentic Christian or follower of Christ. Jesus issues these woes against the Pharisees because they had neglected these fundamental expressions of authentic faith – they had neglected to love God and they had neglected social justice.
We would, however, be wrong to conclude that Jesus is saying the outward expression of faith is unimportant, and only the heart is important. NO! In fact, Jesus stresses that BOTH are important! He wraps up this verse:
You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
Tithing – giving of our material resources – remains important! He wants:
- Social justice
- Love of God
- Our money