Now that Jesus has turned the tables against the Pharisees in their little word games, he turns his attention to the crowds and his disciples. He begins his final public speech and absolutely destroys the Pharisees. He rips into everything that the Pharisees do, calling them out for their pride and hypocrisy. He acknowledges that these men are the best minds when it comes to The Law; they know The Law backwards and forwards, but they are not good examples. In particular, he calls them out for neglecting the importance and weight of justice, mercy and faith. This is one distinction that sets followers of Jesus apart from followers of The Law.
Justice is the administration of law. Based on this definition, you would think that the Pharisees understood justice quite well. However, this definition has the connotation of the administration of law on the general population, not just in one’s personal life. What the pharisees got correct was righteousness in their private lives without achieving justice in their public life. Justice is law applied equally to everyone, while righteousness is law applied to yourself. The Pharisees look at themselves, see that they are following the law perfectly and commend themselves for it. The problem isn’t their piety, it’s their pride. God didn’t command them to follow the law so that they might puff themselves up and hold themselves in high regard, but rather to benefit all of society. This is justice. Righteous acts are not righteous because they benefit you alone, they are righteous because they benefit everyone around you.
Not everyone can follow the law as closely as the Pharisees. Those men were men who dedicated themselves to the reading of scripture day in and day out. Living the law is the only thing that they know how to do. When they look on the masses and see sin: adultery (John 8:1-11), blasphemy (Mark 14:64), greed (Luke 19:7)…what they fail to see are people. People who fall short. People who don’t live the same lifestyle as the Pharisees. The Pharisees know the scriptures, but they don’t seem to remember how God showed the Israelites mercy time and time again. Instead, they turn their noses up at the sin that they see and tell themselves that they are above that. The truth is, no man is above sin except for Jesus himself. The Pharisees poured over their scriptures to make sure that they washed their hands before meals and tithe even their small incomes. They strained their water for gnats. But they swallowed a camel instead. They failed to show mercy. They failed to show people the mercy that their God showed to them.
Love is at the center of Christianity. Jesus said in Matthew 22 that the two greatest commands are to love God and to love people. Apparently the Pharisees didn’t get that. They were too worried about appearing like God-loving individuals that they didn’t have the time to love God’s people. In doing so, they made all of their love for God worthless. If you only love God, you are neglecting one of the greatest commandments. It is as simple as that. Show your love for God by showing your love to His people.