It is possible to keep the Law and miss mercy. This was God’s message through Hosea and the principle Jesus attempted to apply throughout His ministry. There was nothing wrong with the Law, but it could not offer grace. It provided the backdrop against which the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross could be understood, but it could not save. Many thought otherwise. The Pharisees believed they could be made just through a strict adherence to the Law. Jesus portrayed their kind in His Parable of the Good Samaritan in which two spiritual leaders left a man to die because they wanted to preserve their ceremonial purity.
In truth, the Law as given by God was a Law of mercy. It instructed Israel in matters of civil peace, justice and hospitality. Unfortunately, any time humans use a moral code to justify themselves, the form of the Law overshadows its spirit. Sacrifice is the form. A heart of humility, bent on loving God and honoring Him in everything is the spirit.
Maybe Jesus’ parable about the two servants is beginning to make even more sense to you now. The king wasn’t required under the law to forgive, but out of mercy he absorbed the enormous sum owned by the first servant. The first servant could require the second servant to repay him, under the law, and when he was unable he was treated harshly. The king honored the spirit of the law while the first servant used its form for his own selfish ambition. The parable seems horribly unfair, but there are aspects of it that come much too close to home.