I think we can be confused when we hear Paul talk about how he sees the Jewish law in light of being a follower of Jesus Christ. It’s almost like he doesn’t believe the law counts for anything. But let’s look at that a little more carefully.
Paul had excellent Jewish credentials, born and raised a Jew, educated well beyond his peers in Jewish law and tradition, an opponent of the Christians even to the point of persecution. We could say that he was more Jewish than most Jews of his day.
For Paul then, the law has a purpose, as a solution to sin where there is immorality, licentiousness (that’s a fancy word for extravagance or overindulgence or greed), jealousy, orgies, dissension, and those other things we heard. In these situations, the law can regulate such behavior, but none of it has to do with the reign of God.
For him, the conduct of those who live in the Spirit is different: love, joy, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Here the law has no place. Against these things there is no law. In other words, if we belong to Christ, the flesh has been crucified with its passions and desires. To walk with the Spirit is to walk with God toward a destiny with God forever, toward eternity. This is the great message of hope. And it points us to the Jesus’ words in the Gospel today.
Jesus was absolutely concerned about the absence, in his time, of the message of hope. Both the Pharisees and the scholars of the law were much too concerned with lesser things and signs of status - appearances. They were rigid. It is easy to understand Jesus’ frustration. It is far off from the message he came to bring.
When we examine our conscience, we can spend too much time on issues that belong to the law. Don’t take that to mean the commandments don’t count – they do, and we need to follow them. And just because we don’t live under the Jewish law doesn’t mean we are lax or indifferent. We aren’t. But the Christian ideal and attitude goes far beyond the law in calling us to be perfect as is our heavenly Father. The other part, then is – How much time do we devote to the good we are called to promote? How far are we willing to extend ourselves? In being truly people of the Spirit? In the love of God and neighbor, we are called to go beyond the law. We go where charity calls us. Pope Francis refers to it in his homily today as “the Spirit of liberty.”