Early on in my first times in Ecuador, I went out to one of the rural areas wearing short pants. When I came back, I realized one of the reasons that short pants are not popular in the campo: my legs were covered with mosquito bites, and my feet had started to swell. I have never worn short pants in Ecuador since.
Those particular mosquitos are a special type. In the US, they are called no-see-ums, because they are so small, you never see them, like regular mosquitos. You only know they’ve struck when you start itching a spot and notice a tiny red dot. I still get these on my hands. You never see the bugs, you only see the effects. There isn’t much you can do about that.
I talk about the noseeums because in the Gospel where Jesus is going to criticize the hypocritical religious leaders and teachers, he talks about camels and gnats and getting rid of them. Now, we can try to imagine filtering out gnats and swallowing camels and see that the hypocrites are spending all their time on the little things instead of the big things. But what if I said that the Greek word for gnats is actually “noseeums”? And what if we considered that noseeums flock to camels? Then you might say, “Hey, why try to get rid of all those mosquitos you can’t see, and instead, why don’t we just get rid of the camel and all the mosquitos will go with it?” And I would say, “Bingo.”
Imagine having a camel in your house, and then complaining about the noseeums that have entered your house because they live with camels. That’s exactly Jesus’ message about what happens inside our hearts: forget about the noseeums, all the little problems and annoyances and offenses and negative experiences that hurt you: all the little things that bite you in life. I’m here to get rid of the camel. I’m here to get rid of that big, foundational Wound in your life that you’ve had so long that you can’t imagine life without it. And when that camel’s gone, so will be the noseeums.
A friend had a radio on just recently. It was a preacher, and he preached for a half an hour. He preached with enthusiasm and energy, and covered a whole gamut of consoling truths. He talked about one after another of bible passages, and different truths that the church teaches, with conviction and emotion. I have seen many preachers like this. Afterwards, many people feel great and uplifted. What has happened? They just experienced a professional calamine lotion application. Half-hour, full-hour, sometimes 2 hours of more of applying soothing lotion on all the bite marks from the noseeums, using consoling truths. It is an awesome feeling, and quite a feat.
But the camels remain.
So, of course, all the noseeums come back to bite again, and then the preacher and the audience need another salve session a week later, and, well, you get the point. Week after week everyone feels good for a while. Everyone gets hooked. It’s like an addiction.
And the camels remain.
The longest recorded homily that Jesus gave is the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel. One day, I took the time and sat down and read it out loud, the whole thing. It took about 12 minutes if I remember right. Imagine: the longest that Jesus ever preached was twelve minutes. And look at what he did with just a couple of words: he stopped a whole storm in its tracks, he had Peter literally walk on water, he drew grown men to leave everything behind and follow him, he healed people with life-debilitating diseases. He rose Lazarus from the dead. And after everything, there was no “Come back next week.” Everyone went away free to go.
Because he got rid of the camel.
Don’t get pulled in by religious activities filled with a lot of words and devotions and doctrines. They will make you feel good for a while, because they will probably heal the noseeum bites in your heart and your life. But they don’t get rid of the camel. The mosquitos will come back quickly. And you can get hooked.
When God comes and speaks, it is very simple and deep. He’ll pass by all the noseeums bites in your heart and go to the very source. And then all those annoyances of life will be gone, they won’t keep coming back.
You’ll be free.
Because Jesus gets rid of the camel.
“Only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”