There is a strange tension between the letter and the spirit of a law.
The “letter of the law” refers to how a law is spelled out in the penal code, vehicle code etc. The “spirit of the law” is the reasoning behind why the law was enacted; the original intent for its institution. It is possible to violate the “letter of the law” but not the “spirit of the law”. In such cases, law enforcement and prosecutors hopefully use discretion and don’t usually enforce violations of the “letter of the law” as long as the “spirit” wasn’t violated.
A sign may be posted in the park which says “no vehicles allowed”. That’s the letter of the law. The intent, however, is to prohibit large, motorized vehicles from entering. If a person in a wheelchair wants to enter the park, it may technically violate the letter of the law, but not the spirit.
Something along those lines is happening in our text for this Sunday as we continue our study in Mark. We’ll be finishing chapter 2, reading v 23-28.
Why do you think the Pharisees accused the disciples of “harvesting” on the Sabbath? Apply the letter versus the spirit of the law principle here. Do you think it was God’s original intent to keep people hungry on the day of rest?
The story Jesus references in his rebuke is found in 1 Sam 21. It’s an interesting story because it’s filled with all sorts of ethically disconcerting stuff, the least of which was the showbread (to me anyway). What do you believe Jesus’ point to the Pharisees is? What seems to be God’s priority when it comes to his intent behind any commandment?
How can we keep God’s priority in view as we attend to our own life of faith and the values that stem from that?
It will be a thought provoking study, hope to see you there!