Jesus really jumped on the Pharisees. They seemed to be the picture of religion which would point people away from God. They kept the law meticulously where it suited them. They tithed, fasted, prayed eloquently and kept the Sabbath's regulations with no measure for error. They though their careful observance of God's word would give them special honors in the presence of God. Surely, the Messiah Himself would come to reward them. They neglected what Jesus said was the weightier or more important matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith.
Justice and mercy seem to be at opposite ends. Justice makes sure that everyone is rewarded for his righteousness and punished for his unrighteousness. Justice demands that these rewards and punishments reflect the measure of devotion or lack of devotion to obedience for God's law. Thus, justice seems to be something which will condemn the sinner and award the saint. However, while there are moments of virtue, no virtue can erase the wrong each of us has done. Ultimately, we stand guilty under a strict justice system.
In that same sentence, Jesus placed mercy. Some people think that mercy is ignoring guilt. It is not. Mercy is consciously refusing to exact the punishment for guilt. Thus, a husband who has been unfaithful may be shown mercy by his wife when she does not divorce him. Justice says that she has every right. Mercy says that she should give him another opportunity to redeem himself.
Our society is afraid of leaning too hard on justice and forgetting mercy. However, their is danger in giving mercy without regard to justice as well. Somehow we feel good about ourselves when we applaud the pregnant girl who finishes her high school diploma when we forget that she was a part of the problem in the first place. We are rewarding those who solve the problems they caused.
How do you know how to balance justice and mercy? I believe this is where faithfulness comes in. Faithfulness depends upon God who is just and has given us mercy. Faithfulness is walking with God daily so that you know Him so clearly that you can make judgments of justice balanced with mercy. It believes in consequences for sin and help to work through those sins to the other side. By faithfulness to God and His creation I give mercy and understand justice. By faithfulness to God and His creation I give those who will turn from their sinfulness all the mercy necessary to walk through the consequences. By faithfulness, I know that justice must prevail too. I know that the man who has been unfaithful to his wife multiple times is hurting her. I know that there comes a moment when more mercy will be detrimental to her and to him.
Doesn't it seem to be a contradiction for those in Hollywood who say that no one should judge another when they are angry with their own spouses when they have been unfaithful? If they really believed in a "don't judge anyone society, " wouldn't they refuse to judge their own spouses? There seems to be a system of right and wrong that is personal but not universal. In other words, I can administer justice if you have personally hurt me but I have no right if you hurt yourself or someone else.
This is other side of the Pharisees' lack of justice, mercy and faithfulness. The lack of these things present legalism for those who are given to a system of order and rules. The lack of these things promote liberalism for those who want nothing to do with judgment. Both sides fail in faithfulness. Neither side really knows God.
Justice and mercy must be handled carefully. Each must be balanced against the other with faithfulness to our Lord being the force which keeps them in check. These are the more important matters of the law.
Matthew 23:23 (ESV)
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.