Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
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Cornelius a Lapide
Woe unto you, ( Matthew 23:23) &c. Tithes were sanctioned by God in the law. Whence R. Achiva says in Pirke Avoth, "Tithes are the bulwark of riches," because they defend and preserve them. "Tradition is the bulwark of the law. A vow is the bulwark of abstinence; silence, of wisdom."
Mint, a herb of sweet smell, which is often put into broth. Anise, says Pliny, is of efficacy against flatulency and pains in the stomach.
And ye have left, &c. . . . judgment, i.e, justice and equity, passing unjust sentences, so as to favour your own friends and those who offer you gifts. Mercy, because ye rigidly and cruelly exact tithes of widows and the poor. And faith, i.e, fidelity in words and compacts. Or faith in God, and Christ who has been sent by Him. Therefore, ye are unbelievers, in that ye lack faith, hope, and charity, which are the things that God above all requires, according to the words in Micah vi8 , "I will show thee, 0 Prayer of Manasseh , what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
These care the things which ye ought to have done, and not to omit the others, such as the tithing of mint, which was either commanded or permitted by the law.
Ye blind guides which strain out, &c.; Gr. Î´Î¹Ï‹Î»Î¯Î¶Î¿Î½Ï„ÎµÏ‚, i.e, straining, purifying, draining wine, milk, or oil from gnats or other impurities or dregs, by means of a strainer of linen, or other such material. As Apuleius says of the Gymnosophists, "They know not how either to cultivate land or to strain gold." Swallow a camel. For camel, Cajetan puts wrongly asilum, a gadfly, an insect which makes a horrid noise. All the codices, Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Arabic have camel, which is properly opposed to gnat, as something very large to something very small. The sentence is proverbial, and means, "Ye have exact care of trifling things, such as tithing of herbs, lest any one should defraud you in the smallest possible degree; but you at the same time commit, without any scruple, all manner of injustice, rapine, and other wickednesses, as big, as it were, as camels, which ye may be said to swallow down." As it is said in job xv16 , "Who drinketh iniquity like water." "Christ derides the zeal of the Scribes," says Origen, "in being so scrupulous about very trifling things, and so free and bold in the commission of great crimes; in being superstitious about ceremonial washings, but devoid of true relation and charity." They have those who are like them among Christians even now, who scrupulously recite the rosary, and fast in honour of the Blessed Virgin, and withal are guilty at the same time of luxury, rapine, theft, &c.
Proverbs with a similar meaning are: "To draw water from a fountain to fill the sea." "To strip one who is bare, to heap garments upon those who are clothed." "He takes a candle to add to the sunlight." "To hunt a dog with a lion, a hare with an ox."
Mystically: S. Gregory understands by the gnat, Barabbas; by the camel, Christ. This is what he says (lib1 , Moral c6), "The gnat wounds in humming but the camel of its own accord bends to receive its burden. The Jews, therefore, strained out the gnat, because they asked that the seditious robber might be set free. But they swallowed the camel, because by their cries they strove to destroy Him, who of His own will had come down to bear the burdens of our mortality."