Jesus throws this accusation at the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23-24. Among the many condemnations he lays upon the religious leaders of the day, this one keeps sticking out in my mind.
He accuses them of paying meticulous detail to the laws regarding tithing 1/10th of their herb garden all the while neglecting matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. They would strain out their drink to make sure their was not a gnat they would accidentally consume (as a gnat was believed to be unclean). Yet they would swallow a camel in the process. Not literally of course, but they were focusing on a small issue to the neglect of the larger.
What was the larger issue? What was "the camel they were swallowing"? It's interesting that several comments I have seen regarding this reference will bring out the point that Jesus is addressing their neglect of bigger issues. But from there, they have inserted examples of bigger issues that have nothing to do with the "matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness" that Jesus suggested.
As I grow in my understanding of Israel's role and purpose, it is clear that God chose them to be a blessing to the entire world (Genesis 12:1-3). In Isaiah 58, the people are rebuked for not living up to their call "to loose the chains of injustice...to set the oppressed free...to share your food with the hungry...to provide the poor wanderer with shelter..." and on and on the prophet goes. In fact, when you look at why Israel was sent into captivity, it is passages such as Isaiah 1 and 58 that highlight their failure to be the light to the world specifically in regards to justice, as the cause of their exile.
What I want to suggest is that Jesus was exposing their obsession of personal religion and piety to the neglect of the tangible transformation that was to be offered to the world around them.
Keep in mind Jesus said they should have done the former without neglecting the latter. (So as not to swing to the opposite extreme as many are doing today in their concern for social justice to the neglect of inner transformation).
Are we carrying on our own personal religious experiences/practices all the while neglecting matters that carry us out into the world to be a light in the darkness and address matters of injustice? To bring mercy to those who need to be shown mercy? To be faithful to the call that God placed on Israel, which has also been placed upon the church of Jesus Christ?
"You are the light of the world."
Let us not strain out gnats and swallow camels in the process. Our faith should change our own hearts, but it must also move out into the community and bring mercy, justice, and love to the entire world.
Indeed, God desires mercy not sacrifice. He requires of us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.