The Great Weakness of Human Law

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Throughout Jesus’ public ministry, he was constantly being challenged by the Scribes and the Pharisees. These were the “learned” men charged with making and interpreting the laws that prescribed every element of Jewish life. By Jesus’ time, generations of Scribes and Pharisees had created over 600 laws that every Jew had to observe. The burden of these laws on the people had become like a heavy yoke on their shoulders. They were wearied by the impossible effort to observe them all. And, more importantly, the very people who wrote, interpreted, and imposed these laws were often the last to observe them themselves.

These “wise and learned” Scribes and Pharisees had lost sight of the true wisdom of God’s law. They had forgotten that God’s law lays no burden on people, indeed, that it liberates, rather than limits them. God’s law is the law of Love. The law for the Scribes and the Pharisees had become a matter of power and control. It became arbitrary and judgmental. This is the great weakness of human law. It can become an end in and of itself, rather than the means to a higher end. Human laws tend to become confining impositions rather than liberating propositions. Human law has a tendency to see everyone as potentially guilty. God’s law sees the natural innocence in which we are all made and calls us back to it. God’s law does not seek to confine us in our guilts, but to free us with forgiveness and to empower us with grace. Man’s laws are often unjust. God’s law is always perfectly just.

It was the common people, the uneducated, the sinners, who were wise enough to recognize the difference between the law of the Scribes and the Pharisees and the Law of God that Jesus was proposing. The Scribes and the Pharisees saw Jesus only as a threat, a competitor, a danger to their own august self-importance. Because of their pride they could not see who Jesus really was. Jesus did challenge them, but he did so out of love. He was trying to liberate them from their ignorance and their hypocrisy, to “see” the error of their ways. It was the common folk who understood deeply that they were sinners in need of liberation.

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It was the simple ones, those oppressed by the laws of the Scribes and the Pharisees, who came to Jesus, seeing in him the hopes and dreams that their faith had always desired. When he said to them, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” they heard in those words the fulfillment of their deepest dreams and hopes. They responded with humility, knowing themselves to be in need. They could see that the “yoke” that Jesus proposed to them was “easy” and that the “burden” was “light” in comparison to that which the Pharisees and the Scribes imposed on them. They could see the heavenly wisdom in Jesus’ words. After all, is it not easier to love than to hate? Human law punishes and condemns us for our errors. God’s law of love forgives us and frees us from the burdens of our sins. Human law imposes on us a yoke of fear and rebellion. God’s law proposes to us joy and communion.

Lord, increase in us a true and abiding love for your law. Though we are now weary and burdened, help us to hear your invitation to come to you for that rest our souls most desire. We wish to take up your yoke of love and to bear its “burden” with us into our daily lives. We know that if we do, your grace will make our efforts, and even our sufferings, easy and our burdens light. We pray as always in the power of your name, Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.