Faith of A Mustard Seed

Barbara Woods Washington

Barbara Woods-Washington, M. Div.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, …” (Matt 23:23).   Continued attention is given to Jesus’ final use of Faith in Matthew.    ‘Woe/ouai‘ is a form of deep distress and is used to express dismay, misfortune, sorrow, and misery.  Jesus is now mournful, grievous over the way the Pharisees  have become fixed on ‘The Tithe of The Seed’ to the neglect of justice, mercy and faith.

From the Testament of Old, followers of Judaism speak of ‘Three Pillars’ upon which this faith holds fast: Torah, Tithe and Temple.  Although the discussion on the ‘Three Pillars’ varies to include the destruction of the Temples and along with this the shifting of the leadership from priest to rabbi, these ‘pillars’ define a very long tradition of a people who understood themselves as ‘God’s chosen’.

For the occasional Bible reader, canonical references to the Tithe could not begin to define it’s meaning as a substantive practice for a faith that has survived the forces of history.  Neither can the casual modern day Christian, amidst ‘mammon’ and greed driven religiosity, recognize the community building and life sustaining purposes for setting aside a tenth of what was initially ‘first fruits’ of harvest; for the express purpose of providing food for the tribe of Levi set aside as priests whose only job it was to maintain the activities of the temple— Torah, worship, rituals, feasts and sacrifices.

It is no small thing that Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew for whom faith and race were bound as a single entity.  He had been well learned in the Torah and was astute in the Prophets.  He was particularly impressed by the prophet Isaiah whose works he could be heard reading and quoting throughout his public ministry.

The police murder of George Floyd in 2020 clarified for the world this ‘Grave Injustice’ on the part of the American Justice System that is escalated since ‘Slavery’ and ‘Lynching’ and ‘Jim Crow’ and ‘Mass Incarceration’; into this nonsensical killing of Black Men.  At the moment in history, the outcry for JUSTICE could be heard all over the world as Protesters took to the street in more cities and corners of the planet than could be accounted for.  Now with cameras on every phone, in the hands of every individual, the lies and the cover ups now come into the Light.  Even with the mockery given this week on ‘Justice’ in the Courtroom arena: the verdict was returned on Yesterday that Officer Chauvin is Guilty in the murder of George Floyd.

There can be no doubt of the consistency of the prophetic voices expressing over and over again God’s displeasure with the use of the sacrifices being offered.  Isaiah said it early, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord;” (Isaiah 1:11).  Jeremiah cried out ‘raise a standard’, “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from the prophet to the priest, everyone deals falsely.”  (Jeremiah 6:13).  Martin Luther King, Jr. in his life giving sacrifice for justice, could be heard quoting Amos throughout his public ministry, “Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them…  But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”. (Amos 5:22f).

To show how ‘fine print’ the Pharisee had become in their obsessive need for the seed tithe, he names those most highly valued for their usage as spices and say, ‘what does this have to do with justice, mercy and faith’?▪

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