“Jesus contrasts the Pharisees’ preoccupation about relatively trivial matters with their neglect of the central internal virtues that enable and animate obedience to Torah.” Turner, Matthew, p. 546.
During the last week of teaching before his death, Jesus spent time interacting with religious leaders. Eventually, they give up the debate. And, as we can read in Matthew 23, Jesus spends time critiquing them. But he wasn’t simply verbally destroying the people who were about to physically destroy him. The audience for this speech included the people who were about to become a new generation of religious leaders. Disciples were to become apostles. Soldiers would become missionaries. Sinners were becoming saints.
Jesus identified what the Pharisees had gotten wrong in their obsession with public position and power at the expense of internal obedience and practical service. And in this analysis, Jesus was also saying, “So when you become leaders, don’t do that.”
That’s why David Turner’s words resonated as I was studying the other day. How much time in our leadership of congregations and families and ourselves do we spend on trivial matters of external religious activities? How much time do I spend on helping myself and others cultivate the why we do those things?
Greg McKeown talks about essentialism, which he talks about as “the disciplined pursuit of less.” For Jesus, pursuing less meant pursuing God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, and abandoning all the activities which interfered with that pursuit. Good, but not essential. Interesting but not essential. Amusing and distracting but not essential. In fact, the only other thing that he let in was loving his neighbors (disciples, crowds, accusers, abusers) as himself.
The Pharisees often looked for exceptions or alternatives in their trivial pursuits. Jesus waded into crowds to heal and abandoned crowds to pray. The Jesus way is harder, but more like Jesus.