But 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.
Jesus said, "But 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."
The message of Jesus insists on the primacy of love, but also warn us against the excess of libertinism and individualism. In today's text from Galatians, Paul minces no words in stating what proceeds from the undisciplined flesh: lewd conduct, impurity, envy, envy, drunkenness and the rest. Jesus' words are more carefully nuanced. While contrasting the way that the Pharisees paid their tithes, while neglecting justice and the love of God, Jesus concludes that the latter are more important, but immediately adds, "without omitting the other." He did not mount any campaign against the Jewish or Mosaic law. In fact, he observed it carefully and always had a sensible reason for departing from it. When he permits a freer way of acting, he is generally defending his disciples, e.g., plucking and rubbing grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1).
The more that we multiply rules and regulations, the more we try to take control of other people's lives. With control over other people's lives comes a propensity to judge them. Jesus did not deny the validity of rules and regulations, in this case, the requirement to pay tithes. So we should not be in the habit of neglecting these things. Yet he stresed the more important need for justice and the love of God. It is good for us to question our motives in obeying rules and in seeking to be proper and correct in external details. Some consider the appearance of a home more essential than the happy life within the home. We may look good just because that is expected of us. But if we are in the habit of passing judgment on family, community and people at large, we have probably lost touch with the more central values of love.
Every individual has the capability of living a good life, whether Jew or Greek. We are asked to look for this goodness in others before we drag them before our hastily convoked court of law. Jesus, moreover, adds another bit of important advice. Before we begin to judge others harshly, we are asked first to "lift a finger to lighten" their burden. Perhaps then we would be in such admiration of their goodness and patience, that negative attitudes would be choked off.
We all find ourselves burdened from time to time. Sometimes that burden seems to weigh very heavily on us; at other times it is much lighter. The gospel calls on us to help carry each other's burdens, but the opposite can also happen; it can be particular people that burden us the most. In today's gospel, Jesus accuses the lawyers, the experts in the Jewish Law, of loading burdens on people that are unendurable, without moving a finger to life them. They interpreted the Jewish Law in such a way that it had become a burden for people. Rather than a path to life, the Law had become another burden on an already burdened people.
Jesus did not come to further burden those who were already burdened. Rather he invited them, 'Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.' He came to draw us into a deeper relationship with God and thereby to enable us to live as God wants us to live. The call of the gospel does make demands of us, but they are the demands of love. They are the demands of a loving Lord who wants us to have life and have it to the full and who gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable us to respond to the challenging and life-giving call of the gospel.