The elephant in the room is a modern idiom which suggests that we don’t discuss the big (and often uncomfortable) topics which affect our lives or relationships. But Jesus was not prepared to let these topics be ignored.
The biggest elephant He addressed was sin. And while He didn’t mention pachyderms, He did make full use of camels and logs.
Just like us today, with our tendency to make “small talk” or to skirt issues, so did the “religious” people of Jesus’ day. They seemed obsessed with the minor or inconsequential matters and often missed the real point of their relationship with God and man.
In Matthew 23: 23-24 Jesus said,
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
This is not only a direct challenge to the leaders’ religious focus of devotion, but a great play on words as well (something I am sure His audience would find memorable). In Aramaic, gnat is “gamla” and camel is “gamal.” Jesus was challenging the leaders to sort out their gamlas from their gamals, an effective metaphor for discerning the trivial from the “big issues.”
Jesus didn’t just put the elites on notice, however. He clearly reminded all of his auditors of the need to examine their priorities and perceptions, especially when dealing with others.
In Matthew 7: 3-5 he warns,
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
How often do we nitpick while glossing over our own shortcomings?
We as believers have this challenge set by Jesus – to focus on the “big things.” What elephants (camels and planks) do we need to see and deal with? Maybe it is time to get these out of our rooms.