“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” Mathew 23:23
I learned something about myself when I took a watercolor class: I can’t lay off the details. As much as I admire broad stroke paintings, and broad stroke living for that matter, I dive into the fine points every time. The trait is not without benefits. I have a solid grasp of air traffic control because I know a lot of the particulars it entails. I’m a better pilot because I pay attention to details. If you’re a passenger, you want that in a pilot – details are often barriers to risk. I’m good at constructing things and I can hold a lot of information in my head. Usually, the information is pretty specialized and not much use in conversation unless someone has an interest. Then I can talk all day. In writing I take care to choose specific words and groupings of words that evoke the desired experience for the reader. At least, I try to.
There’s danger in being detail-oriented too. For one thing you might not see the Big Picture. The well-known ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’ syndrome. The Pharisees carried out their duties to the nth degree. Nothing was too trivial to elude their attention, right down to tithing from their spices.
But what was the Big Picture? It wasn’t too pretty.
Pay no attention to the shenanigans going on in the temple yard. Don’t worry about the poor folks paying juice to exchange their currency for temple cash to buy a pigeon or lamb to sacrifice. The Pharisees were champions of rationalization, managing to look the other way when they carried their mint tithes into the temple. With them it really wasn’t a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. They refused to. The oh-so-demanding canon they observed just made them look to darned good to give it up. But they knew better. They suppressed the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). That’s why Jesus condemned them. All four gospel writers recounted Jesus mopping up that mess in the temple yard. It must have been quite a satisfying scene to see Him take the hypocrites to task where they lived.
No wonder Jesus called them white-washed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but inside filled with dead men’s bones and uncleanness. You may appear righteous to men, He said, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27, 28). They hated Him for the truth of those words.
There are no details we can observe to make us righteous. None. Not one. The Bible says all our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Look up the comparative term Isaiah used. It describes disgusting uncleanness. Certainly nothing fit to offer God.
Besides, details aren’t people. The only details of value are those that make things better for everyone. Those of us who tend to love details for their own sake must remember that. We must choose what we give ourselves to, lest our lives become a pursuit of the trivial.
© Melissa Kay Simonds