WHAT is Pharisaical legalism? At bottom, it’s the understanding of law that is based only on our human ways, ignoring the ultimate basis of law who is God as revealed fully in Christ. As such, it tends to be rigid, to be quick to judge and to claim it has the last word in any issue or question.
We are reminded of this danger in that episode where Christ was confronted by some Pharisees because his disciples were picking heads of grain while passing through a field on a sabbath. (cfr. Mk 2,23-28) Christ had to correct them about how the sabbath law should be taken.
We certainly should always be guided by laws. We should just see to it that our human laws are properly based and oriented. And given our limitations, not to mention our errors and sins, our human laws should also give due allowance for this unavoidable fact of life.
Truth is our laws should reflect the law and order as designed by God the Creator for the whole world and for man, specifically. They should respect and in fact reinforce what God has given as the law of nature and the moral law that governs our human acts.
But, alas, we wonder whether these things about natural law and moral law are given due consideration these days. What we can notice is a steady drift toward what is called as legal positivism.
Legal positivism is when our legal and juridical systems are simply based on perceptual experiences and people’s consensus while systematically shutting out any input from faith and divine revelation that tells us that God is in fact the very foundation, inspiration and perfection of our human laws.
In other words, without any reference to God’s law, our human law cannot help but be out on a limb. For all the brilliance, wisdom and success a Godless human law can have and accomplish, it can only go so far. It cannot go the distance required by our human dignity. Sooner or later, it will fail and fall into forms of injustice, many of them so subtle that injustice can be committed under cover of our human law.
A clear example of this latter case is the law on abortion. It is a lot worse than the so-called extrajudicial killing. Abortion is clear murder of the most defenceless members of our human society—the infant while inside the mother’s womb.
Of course, rationalizations can come aplenty. It’s not yet a baby, they say. It’s just a bundle of tissues. It does not have life on its own. But no one can contest the fact that that so-called clump of tissues has the DNA of the parents, and that it cannot but be a living baby if it is allowed to develop to its full course and no problems and complications come along the way.
The Bible has many passages that the unborn is already a child, a person, chosen by God, etc. The Book of Jeremiah, for example, says: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (1,5)
And to be more blunt about it, precisely Christ before he was born was already the Son of God who became man to redeem us! Could Mary and Joseph have thought of aborting the unborn Christ because they thought he was just a bunch of tissues while still in the womb?