If you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Blessed are they who do not follow
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walk in the way of sinners,
nor sit in the company of the insolent,
But who delight in the law of the Lord
and meditate on his law day and night. (R./)
They are like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever they do will prosper. (R./)
Not so the wicked, not so;
they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the Lord watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked vanishes. (R./)
Jesus said to the Pharisees, "Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herb of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it."
One of the lawyers answered him, "Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too." And he said, "Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them."
Saint Paul insists on freedom of spirit, but warn against libertinism and individualism. Today's text from Galatians minces no words in stating what proceeds from the undisciplined heart ("the flesh"). It leads to lewd conduct, impurity, envy, envy, drunkenness and the rest.
Jesus' words in the Gospel are more nuanced. He contrasts how his critics observed the temple tax while neglecting justice and love, and says the rule of love is more important, but "without neglecting the others." He did not campaign against the Mosaic law and only neglects it for good reason. When he permits an exception he explains the reason for it.
The more we stress rules and regulations, the more we are tempted to judge others. Jesus did not deny that rules have a place, in this case, the paying of tithes, but he promoted the higher way of justice and love. It is good for us to question our motives from time to time. We may look good just because that is what's expected of us. But if we are in the habit of judging others harshly, we may be losing touch with our centre.
Every individual has the power to live a good life, whether Jew or Greek. We are asked to look for this goodness in others before we criticise them. Before judging, we need to ask ourselves what are we doing to lighten their burden. If we knew their full story we might show more mercy.
Sometimes life's burden seems to weigh heavily on us; at other times it feels lighter. The Lord wants us to carry each other's burdens, but the opposite can easily happen, so that we burden them instead.
He accuses the lawyers of burdensing people instead of trying to help them. Their version of the Jewish Law had was distorted. Rather than a pathway to life, the Law was a heavy weight on an overburdened people. Jesus did not come to make people feel more guilty. Instead he invited them, 'Come to me..., and I will give you rest.'
If the gospel sometimes feels demanding, it is in order to be more loving in our relationships. We are not meant to feel burdened by this duty. The loving Lord who wants us to have life to the full gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit to know that his way leads to eternal life.