Heck, he sat down on the mount like Moses (just like Moses) and laid down the law. Being faithful to one's spouse, not condemning, turning the other cheek, giving to the poor, keeping promises, not being a hypocrite. Serious, difficult stuff. And he was really serious. He compared one who listened to his law but didn't obey it to a man who built a really nice house but it got destroyed in a terrible storm. In case you didn't get it, Jesus was talking about the judgment day. Yeah, he was saying "you don't obey, there are eternal consequences." Serious stuff indeed.
The question comes into our mind whether there is really any difference between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus himself said, "Unless your righteousness is greater than the scribes and Pharisees you will not enter into God's kingdom." The scribes were like the Bible professors of their day. The Pharisees... well, we all know about the Pharisees. Even the ancient Jews made fun of the Pharisees and their overly strict interpretation of the law.
But Jesus is saying that the Pharisees weren't strict enough. Is this the guy who forgave the adulteress? Is this the guy who welcomed sinners into the Kingdom? Is this the one who said, "I came to seek and save the lost"? Is Jesus really welcoming the lost when he places such a heavy burden on them? Come to think of it, isn't he the one who said, "My burden is light"?
Yeah, he is. And there is no contradiction here. Because as supportive as Jesus is about the law, he is dismissive of it, as well.
Why? Is there any rational sense in this? Absolutely.
You see, Jesus plays favorites with the law. Some laws are bigger and better than others.
- Jesus said that the two "greatest" laws are these: "Love the Lord your God" and "Love your neighbor as yourself."
- He proclaimed, "Mercy is greater than sacrifice"
- He denied the Mosaic law to attack one's enemies and proclaimed "Love your enemies."
- He rejected the command to kill the severe killer and instead said, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."
- And he gave a "new" command: "Love one another."
Jesus' view of the law is that care for others' takes precedent over all other law.
It isn't that he completely dismissed all other laws. He agreed to pay taxes. He agreed to have lepers go to the temple to be accepted into the community by the priests. He agreed that murder, adultery, breaking one's vows and stealing were always wrong. But if any particular law caused more harm than it relieved, then Jesus dismissed that application of the law.
Laws about the sanctity of bread or a day aren't as important as feeding hungry people.
Laws about purity aren't as important as going to a Gentile's house for healing.
Laws about health aren't as important as touching someone who has been disconnected from touch for years.
Laws about female impurity aren't as important as welcoming a lost person back to God.
Jesus is tough on lawbreakers-- if they break the law of love, mercy and care.
Jesus is willing to break any law-- if the law breaks the law of love.
This is why James calls "Love your neighbor as yourself" the Royal Law, because it is the one unbreakable law granted by the King.
This still holds to anyone who is a member of the Kingdom of God. We have a lot of laws we must obey. More than any society has ever had to obey. And we do pretty well. We usually follow the California Speed Law-- however the traffic is flowing, that's what we'll do.
But if the law-- ANY law-- is opposed to helping others, opposed to rescuing the helpless or innocent, opposed to caring for others, opposed to restoring the lost, then we are to go against the flow. We need to drive on the wrong side of the road, so to speak. We need to break the human laws, if necessary, and obey the laws of God.
This is what Jesus did. This is what we must do. For the sake of everyone, even those who enforce the law.