People are always doing wrong things to avoid doing another wrong thing.
This is a very bad idea, but it is an especially bad idea when the evil done is worse than the evil avoided.
Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint, and anise, and cummin, and have left the weightier things of the law; judgment, and mercy, and faith. These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.
The scribes and the Pharisees knew God wanted them to give ten percent of what they had to the poor. They worked so hard at doing this that they forgot why God wanted them to give ten percent of all they had to the poor. They got the number right, but not the heart attitude.
They forgot judgment, mercy, and faith.
Leave a glass of wine out in Houston on a summer day and it will end up full of gnats. If it is a “no meat” fast day, one might strain out the gnat to avoid breaking the fast. It would then be odd to sit down and eat an entire camel, but that is what a hypocrite does.
Some people avoid a huge evil by doing an even bigger one. Certain defenders of abortion think it better for the baby to die than become part of the surplus population. They swallow a moral whale to avoid a camel size problem: how to help the poor in a free society. Of course, I am told some pro-life folk only care for the life of the baby, avoiding whale stew, but then swallow the camel: they do not care for the born baby and mother.*
My own idea is that we should avoid eating whales (they are endangered) or camels (no comment).
Here is a more subtle problem. I am tempted to swallow a gnat to avoid having to swallow a camel. Surely I can tell this lie for the boss to help keep the ministry going? Sure the boss is a racist, but she is doing so much good. Let me say nothing after her joke. I swallow a little gnat in order to avoid great evils.
The problem with gnats is that they breed very quickly. I tell my lie to get our pro-life agenda going, but one lie requires another. I cover for the boss, but her problems require more cover ups the next day and the next and the next.
If I am not careful, I end up swallowing a million gnats to avoid a camel. The other side is so bad. If you will not eat the gnat, then (rightly) a critic can say: “Don’t be a baby. Eat the gnat. Look at the good that can come if you are not so precious.” A good person says, “Yes. This gnat would go down fine, but there are more gnats to come, swarms. No, thank you.”
Of course, Jesus was not saying that the scribes and the Pharisees shouldn’t strain out the gnats. He wasn’t advising sinning in small ways that judgment, mercy, and faith might abound!
He was suggesting to keep the goal in mind and not to let avoidance of small sins blind you to committing big ones.
However, it is also true that the daily swallowing of many gnats will not be good for you . . .or the culture. Jesus was plain: you cannot justify big evils by doing lots of little good deeds, but He says we should do the little good deeds! He isn’t advocating gnat swallowing!
I would put it this way: Woe to you Christians, hypocrites; because while you rightly focus on the weightier things of the law; judgment, and mercy, and faith, you ignore the details. You ought to prioritize the weightier things, but that did not mean you got to tell white lies, ignore small sins, and justify evil means for those good ends. Blind guides, who swallow countless gnats to avoid swallowing a camel.
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