Matt 23: 23-24
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”
The Pharisees followed the law to the letter meticulously. Yet when they come to the more important aspects of the law in showing justice, mercy and faithfulness to others, they were indifferent.
They were meticulous in straining out the gnat in their tea through their teeth but they were simply indifferent to swallowing the camel. That was the analogy par excellence given by our Lord.
The Lord did not condemn them for practising the law to the letter but reprimanded them for ignoring the more important spirit (or intent) of the law.
Likewise today, there are many churches who practice their tradition and sacraments to the letter without truly understanding the spirit or intent of them.
They will insist that water baptism has to be immersion and not sprinkling; or the Lord’s Supper has to be served with unleavened bread and real wine.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the lawyer wanted to put Jesus to the test and asked what he should do to inherit eternal life. And he answered the question himself by stating the summary of the law in the 2 greatest commandments.
After Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, He wanted the lawyer to answer for himself who was the true neighbour, or who was truly obeying the law to the spirit.
The priest and the Levite in the parable followed the law to the letter by avoiding a possible dead person while the Samaritan broke everything in the law to the letter. Yet the lawyer himself ascertained that the Samaritan was truly the neighbour by obeying the law to the spirit.