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Straining at gnats and swallowing camels

Christian hope is that a day will come when the purposes that God had in mind when he created the cosmos will be fully fulfilled.

ZOE AUTOR 102/Antonio_Cruz 24 DE DICIEMBRE DE 2023 11:00 h
Photo: [link]Syed Ali[/link], Unsplash CC0.

Mosquitos (also referred to as gnats) are dipterous nematoceran flies widely distributed throughout the world. They are sedentary and solitary.



One of the most abundant species is the common mosquito (Culex pipiens), which can be found throughout half the world. The males have feathery antennae, measure about 15 mm and feed on vegetal juices, while the females (hemophage) feed on the blood of other animals, especially mammals, as a result of which they are carriers of numerous infections.



Their mouths have the shape of a long tube, or proboscis, capable of piercing the skin of the animal (mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian), through which they suck the blood. This proboscis contains six needles for penetrating the skin, detecting the blood vessels and sucking the blood.



They achieve this by first injecting anticoagulant substances, which cause the characteristic swelling. The proteins contained in the blood of vertebrate animals is necessary for the female mosquitos to be able to produce eggs.



Different species of mosquitos transmit infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue, zika, chikungunya, yellow fever of western Nile fever, among others.



They are responsible for some 750,000 human deaths a year. They can detect the carbon dioxide that we exhale when we breathe, and they are also attracted by sweat and other body odours, as well as by perfumes.



The larvae can thrive with very little water, in puddles, on leaves, in barrels, cisterns, canals, and especially beside rivers, lagoons and marshes. They are sophisticated structures that seem exquisitely designed to do what they do. That is to say, to bite human beings.



However, like all living organisms on our planet, mosquitos perfectly perform their function in maintaining the natural balance.



They act as pollinizing agents, thus enabling millions of plants to reproduce effectively and they also constitute a staple diet for birds, bats, reptiles, frogs and fish.



Does that justify all the human deaths they cause? Why did God create the mosquitos that cause so many fatal diseases? This leads us to the perennial question of theodicy. Why does evil exist in the world?



The Christian answer is given by the apostle Paul (Romans 8:18-22). The afflictions and injustices of the present time cannot be compared with the glory that is to come. When God created the world it was very good.



However the whole creation was subjected to vanity on account of the rebellion of humankind (Genesis 3:17-19) This is not the world that God desired, but the one that we deserve. However, this very same subjection to the slavery of corruption contains within it a grain of hope: new heavens and new earth where justice will eternally prevail.



The doctrine of the cosmic fall emanates from every page of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. Christian hope is, therefore, that a day will come when the purposes that God had in mind when he created the cosmos will be fully fulfilled.



We do not know whether Jesus invented saying “you strain at a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24), but what is clear is that it was intended as an ironic indictment of the attitude of the scribes and the pharisees.



In their meticulous attention to the counting of the smallest mint, cumin and dill leaves before grinding them, they were keeping the gnat and swallowing the camel. Of all the unclean animals mentioned in the mosaic law, the mosquito was the smallest, and the camel the largest (Lev. 11:4).



Wine was filtered through a muslin cloth to ensure that it would contain nothing impure, such as a mosquito, as the law had stated that every winged insect with four legs was anathema. (Lev. 11:23) and in fact, there are certain species of these tiny insects which are attracted by fermented wine, and wallow in it. This is what Jesus was referring to.



Religious hypocrisy consisted in giving too much importance to external ritual, to something so small and insignificant as a mosquito, while at the same time forgetting what is really important: justice, mercy and faithfulness.



This was akin to swallowing a huge camel. This analogy may well have drawn a laugh from Jesus’s hearers. Can you imagine someone scrupulously straining their wine so as not to swallow an unclean mosquito and, at the same time, swallowing a huge camel as if it were of no importance?



Swallowing “camels” is a very serious religious transgression, which must be avoided at all costs, but which, sadly, is all too common nowadays.


 

 


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