The conflict between love and law is one of the major themes in the Christian New Testament. Most of the opposition Jesus faced came from well-meaning people defending laws, rules and customs they believed Jesus was breaking. Though rarely angry, Jesus reacted strongly whenever people used the law as an excuse to act with hardness of heart. An example:
"Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy." The Ten Commandments are authoritative for Jews and Christians, and their substance is also found in the Muslim Quran. An engraved monument of the Ten Commandments sits on the Arkansas Capitol grounds. Honored law.
On one sabbath day Jesus went to worship and saw a man with a withered hand. The tension in the room was immediate. Jesus had a reputation as a healer and as a man of compassion. What would Jesus do? The conventional legal interpretation of the commandment was that healing is a form of work forbidden by law on the sabbath. He should respect the gift of rest on the sabbath and wait until tomorrow to heal.
Jesus asked, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?" He words met with silence. "He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart." (Mark 3)
Jesus healed the man. On that day his opponents began their plan to destroy him. They knew his actions were subversive toward the law. Out of respect for that law, they determined to stop him. Eventually they would charge him with religious blasphemy and political insurrection, and Jesus would be legally executed as a capital criminal.
When a lawyer asked Jesus which is most important law, Jesus answered simply: Love. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. All legitimate law hangs on this.
In Matthew 23, Jesus strongly scolded legalists who meticulously follow the letter of the law but neglect the greater priorities of "justice and mercy and faith." He condemned those who "tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them."
Jesus publicly overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple. Their activity was legal and official. Jesus condemned their greed and the way they exploited the poor, and he challenged their monopoly on God's forgiveness, which is free and abundant for all. Within a week after Jesus shut down their business, he was arrested, tried and executed. Legally.
Most of Jesus' conflicts were about love vs. law. For Jesus, love trumps law; compassion supersedes legalism.
Previously I've written several columns about gifted and admired neighbors who live here with us in Northwest Arkansas. Each of these neighbors is someone who is contributing to our community, loved by a network of family and friends, but does not have legal immigration status and lives with the threat of deportation.
Every time I write one of these columns about these good people, I get emails complaining that I did not label them properly. They are "illegal," the writers will remind me. They or their parents broke the law. And we must uphold the law. Do you, pastor, recommend that we ignore or break the law?
I believe we should challenge our immigration law as hardhearted and unjust. I believe we should only enforce the laws with compassion. Our current immigration law is anti-family, anti-child, and inhumane. I believe we should change the law. We currently ignore the plight of refugees, and we make it impossible for good people to immigrate here legally.
Our hardhearted laws hurt the vulnerable who dream of contributing to our nation. They also hurt us by blocking the energy and hopes that immigrants bring with them. As I've written before, immigrants are good neighbors. Research evidence is clear: Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or to be incarcerated than native-born people. They are twice as likely to start a business. All pay taxes -- sales and property taxes. Most file income tax using an Individual Tax Identification Number. Many pay payroll taxes without qualifying for future benefits. Immigrants, legal and undocumented, pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. Immigrants add to our economy and our culture.
"Is it lawful to do good or to do harm with your immigration laws, to save life or to kill?" Jesus commands us: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Commentary on 06/05/2018
Print Headline: Find answers in love