…and not to leave the other undone. You may recognize Jesus’ admonition to the Pharisees. (Luke 11:42) He was encouraging them to not just perfect their understanding of the letter of the law but to live and love the spirit of the law as well. He wanted them to do both. His own life was a great illustration of knowing the law inside and out, but tempering it with love, using it to bless, not punish, his fellow man.
For example, when the Pharisees brought a woman to him whom they’d caught having sex with a man who wasn’t her husband, they rightly told him she should be stoned. Jesus didn’t contradict their verdict. But he did ask them to examine their own hearts to see which one of them was pure enough to throw the first stone. Their anger and self-righteousness dissolved and they left the woman unscathed. Then, Jesus pardoned her, changing her life forever. (John 8)
In another instance, when a lawyer hoped to ensnare him in some false teaching about eternal life, Jesus asked him to recount what the law said. (Luke 10:25-37) The lawyer rightly quoted the Old Testament: love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus praised him and reminded him that doing so was eternal life. Still trying to trip him up, the lawyer asked how to identify one’s neighbor. The Master told a poignant story that has come to be known as the parable of the Good Samaritan, making the point that one’s neighbor is anyone we come in contact with. It was a startling but valid interpretation of the law that the lawyer couldn’t challenge. Neither can we.
The Pharisees repeatedly chastised Jesus for healing on the Sabbath day. And he repeatedly pointed out that freeing his fellow men and women from sin, disease, and death on the Sabbath was in keeping with God’s law of love. In fact, he told them “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) Jesus powerfully challenged the letter of the law that enabled a man to save an animal from danger on the Sabbath, but not a person. Surely a person was worth more than a beast, he said. (Luke 13:11-17) The spirit of the law was freedom for all.
We too can understand the freedom that comes from knowing the law inside and out and practicing it for healing and helping, rather than condemning or belittling. Only in this way are we actually following the teachings of Christ Jesus. We can do both.
Melissa Hayden is a Christian Science practitioner in Salem, OR. You can find more information and additional articles at this link. If you like what you’re reading, click the “add me” button.