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. Luke 11:42
Sometimes a misconception people get about God is that he’s just after their money. This isn’t God’s fault, it’s greedy church people’s fault. It’s our fault. We as the church have allowed this to be front and center to the neglect of so much else.
Don’t get me wrong, giving money to God is a very important part of our journey of following him. Giving in a disciplined manner is something God expects and being generous is the call of the New Testament (which goes way beyond the simple tithe of the Old Testament). In Luke 11 Jesus isn’t saying to quit tithing, he’s saying that it shouldn’t be done at the expense of justice and the love of God.
Justice. Essentially, this comes down to protecting the human dignity of others—or restoring it where it’s been taken. This is caring for the poor and broken; it is embracing the neglected and marginalized; it means befriending the friendless and unpopular.
Jesus was a friend to tax collectors (think IRS without rules), prostitutes, religious bigots, and social outcasts. He was their friend. He ate with them, talked with them, spent time with them, helped them. All of them. He loved them.
This is justice. To give people them a sense of dignity and value. Not for what they do but just because they are—to love them as they are. Not requirements for fixing themselves up. Just love. Just a demand that they be given some dignity.
When Jesus began his ministry he opened with a reading from Isaiah. A portion of it read like this:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19
At the end he declared that this was being fulfilled in their presence; essentially saying that he was fulfilling these acts of justice. The poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed—this is who he came for. This is justice. To seek these out and give them love.
Back to Luke 11—Jesus says that not only are they neglecting justice, but also the love of God. I think we could spend a great deal of time on this idea and exploring what it might mean to stop neglecting the love of God. It might be good to revisit it further at another time. But for now, the one thing that really jumps out at me is that these Pharisees are diligently—and very legally—giving their tithe. Even down to their spices! They are following the rules exactly! But there is no love of God in it. They are going through the motions and following the steps, but not out of love.
It’s easy to do. It’s easy to get sucked into the religious steps and to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, but to lose sight of the call, which is a call of love. God doesn’t want your money. And he doesn’t want your ability to follow rules. He wants you. You are the treasure to him. He just knows that our money can get in the way of knowing him, so giving some of it keeps us connected. He knows that we are prone to wander, so rules draw us back. And he knows that we are selfish, so a call to maintain justice combats that.
God is after us, still pursuing us. Justice and love, along with generosity and giving help us take step towards him even as he comes running after us.