One sabbath Jesus was in a synagogue and noticed a man with a deformed hand. Knowing that the law and order folks there were watching to see whether he would break the law, Jesus asked the man to stand up in front of everyone. Jesus asked, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath, to do good or to do evil, to save a life or to kill?” The law and order people remained silent. Jesus was angry and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts. He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand” and as he did so, his hand was completely restored. The law and order people left the synagogue and began to plot to kill Jesus (Mark 3:1-6 paraphrase mine)
In the story above Jesus is fully aware that he is being watched to see whether or not he would break the law and thus give the law and order people that which they needed to bring legal charges against him. The Pharisees, or the law and order folks, were simply enforcing the law, and to the letter they were right, Jesus broke the literal law. However, what Jesus was telling these people is that the law’s purposes, to do good rather than evil, where more important than the literal words of the law.
You can understand the law and order folks, who surely thought God was on their side. It was God’s laws they were upholding after all. And they could not imagine, nor abide the idea that God in Jesus was completing (accomplishing) the law they always knew. (See Matthew 5:17-18, John 17:4, John 19:30, Ephesians 2:15)
Fearing they will lose their position of privilege in a society that valued power through order above everything else, the law and order religious leaders collaborated with the empire, and Jesus was hung on a tree.
The law and order folks certainly thought they were in the right and at the moment of Jesus’ death it certainly looked that way, however three days later God raised Jesus from the dead, and in so doing declared Jesus right and the law and order folks wrong.
It is God’s vindication of Jesus on Easter that makes any claim that God holds the law above compassion emphatically wrong.
After Jesus’ resurrection, one of the most zealous of the law and order folks, a man named Saul, had an encounter with the risen Christ. Mind blown by the reality that the Messiah was hung on a tree, an act to which the law says the hung person is cursed, Saul turned a 180 and became what he was persecuting. So dramatic was the change that even his name was changed to Paul, as if he was a new person. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Paul spent ten years after his first encounter with Christ wrestling with what Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection meant for the law, for the Jews, and for the Gentiles. (Galatians 3:19-28)
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
If you have read all Paul’s letters you know that his answer to what Christ crucified means centers on the limitations of the law and how that blinds us from fully seeing God’s grace and experiencing his love. Paul’s theology, most of which is practically synonymous with Christian theology, is why quoting Paul to support law over compassion is either ignorant or insincere. (Galatians 2:21).
The law and order people of Jesus’s day were so blinded by the power the law provided them over everyone else that they did not see God in their midst. The consequence of their blindness was felt as Jesus predicted. About thirty years after Jesus was crucified, despite the best efforts of the law and order folks to retain their positions of privilege, most were put to death, their temple destroyed, and Jerusalem left in ruins by the Romans, never to be the same again. (Luke 21:5-6)
When Christians pray using words Jesus taught, we say “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As Richard Rohr says, one cannot declare with its fullest meaning, “thy kingdom come” without also saying at the same time, “my kingdom go.” On earth, as it is in heaven.