It occurred to me as I finished my sermon yesterday on the Second Commandment that the reason God prohibits carving other images to bow down to and serve is because they always function as excuses. They are lifeless but they demand our time and energy. You must light candles in front them, burn incense to them, bow down and say your prayers to them or through them, but meanwhile your wife needs help with the dishes or your husband could really use some encouragement or your children would really be blessed by a good wrestle or a book or just attentive conversation.
Idols are a sophisticated way of avoiding responsibility, a pious sounding way of avoiding real faithfulness. Idols of liturgy, idols of theology, idols of ideology, idols of appearance, idols of organization: idols steal true devotion to the true God, true devotion which ought to be offered to His image bearers all around you: the poor and the needy in your own home, the poor and needy in your neighborhood and community. And as I said yesterday, you can always tell the idolaters by their deformities and by the deformities in those closest to them: hurting and broken spouses, hurting and broken children, hurting and broken neighbors. But when you serve blind idols, you become blind, and you don’t even notice. When you serve deaf idols, you become deaf, and you can’t hear when they cry.
The sinful instinct to tithe dill and mint and cumin at the expense of doing justice and mercy is the slippery slope to idolatry. Jesus says it’s fine to tithe mint and dill as long as you don’t leave the weightier matters of the law undone. But once you’re comfortable making excuses for why you aren’t loving your neighbor, it is not much of an adjustment to offering tithes to the mint and dill. It is that important after all.