"Law has a curious effect on people. We either enjoy observing and enforcing the fine points and punishing those who don’t conform, or we dismiss the whole idea and demand our 'freedom.' Some people lean one way or the other, but most of us are capable of being rigid about others’ behavior and lax about our own. When it comes to limiting our freedom, we tend to admit some laws as necessary evils—we can’t just drive on whatever side of the road we fancy. But the idea of law, in our private lives especially, gets our backs up: 'Don’t push your expectations on me.'
Jesus steers a course between these extremes, knowing that the point of religious rules is that we’re in a love relationship with God. Anyone who thinks relationships are better without rules has never been cheated on, been left to do all the housework, or been deserted by their partner at a party where they don’t know anyone. Relationships can’t function without expectations; there is no honorable way to abandon a sick spouse or child. But Jesus, who came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, defined the essence of the law as wholehearted love of God and neighbor. When we lose sight of that, while carefully keeping secondary rules that allow us to feel like 'I’ve got this,' then we’re like a dog that confuses the finger with the thing it’s pointing to.
Jesus always, always, points us to love. It’s the essence of the law because it’s the essence of who God is. In the end, we won’t be judged by the food that goes into us but by the love that comes out of us."
Susan Pitchford, a sociologist at the University of Washington and Third Order Franciscan, is the author of "The Sacred Gaze", "God in the Dark", and "Following Francis: The Franciscan Way for Everyone."