"And you experts in the law, woe to you..."
The phrase "experts in the law" is being translated from the Greek word νομικός (nomikos) - which means "pertaining to the law, one learned in the law" according to the lexicon.
In modern society, these would be considered our judges and lawyers. The primary difference in Jesus' society was that the law of the land was Judaic Mosiac law - the laws introduced by Moses and expanded upon and exercised over the centuries by the ecclesiastical priests and institutional leaders of Judea, which became corrupted.
In other words, these judges and lawyers represented the Jewish religious institution that existed in Judea, the center or capital of which was Jerusalem. As such, the head of this institution was none other than the high priest Caiphas:
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. (Matt. 26:4)So we see that Jesus was criticizing those judges and lawyers who represented the institution whose leadership (notice that Caiaphas had a palace) was threatened by Jesus and eventually sought to persecute him. Why? Because Jesus threatened their perceived authority.
Because Jesus had real authority. He had the authority empowered to him by the Supreme Being.
And their authority was achieved by virtue of politics - climbing up the ranks by impressing and/or manipulating others.
This is reflected in Jesus' criticism of these "experts in the law."
"... because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry..."
The position these Judaic "experts in the law" had related to making judgments upon people when they broke any of the various Mosaic laws and customs.
When someone had broken one of these laws or customs, they would be brought before one of these appointed "experts in the law" who would pass judgment upon the person, and subsequently pass a sentence.
So Jesus is commenting that the sentences of these judges were typically too severe. "burdens they can hardly carry" means a sentence that would be difficult to bear.
The phrase "hard to carry" is being translated from the Greek word δυσβάστακτος (dysbastaktos), which means, "hard to be borne" or "hard to bear."
For example, there is a popular story about a hungry child in 18th century Europe who stole a loaf of bread to eat and was sentenced to many years in prison. This might be an example of a sentence that is way outside the scope of the crime.
Apparently, the lopsided sentences of the day were even more egregious because they were sometimes given for foregoing one of the many Jewish religious customs, such as bathing before eating or abstaining from working on the Sabbath. And sometimes people were also beaten or stoned for making a statement that disagreed with the philosophy followed by the Jewish institution.
And we all know how this same Jewish institution supported a sentence of death against Jesus because of his teachings. This is a prime example of the outrageous judicial choices of this institution.
"... and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them."
This illustrates the lack of compassion these Jewish judges had for people, as they passed sentences against them. For example in our current society, many judges will pass a sentence requiring community service or anger management training for those who commit minor violations. In this way, they are seeking to help the person modify their behavior rather than issue a punitive sentence. This is an example of a compassionate judgment.
Jesus was pointing out that these Judaic judges were not displaying compassion. They were looking down upon those they passed judgment with disdain.
This is a sign of a hard heart. A person in a position of authority with no compassion for someone in an inferior position is a person who does not realize that each of us is equally God's children. We might have forgotten our connection with the Supreme Being, but this does not change our innate relationship with Him, and our innate relationship with each other as fellow children of God.
And a person who wants to please the Supreme Being will naturally have compassion upon others because this is pleasing to God. This is why God said:
"For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6)So we see the Supreme Being is pleased with compassion for others. He is most pleased with someone who has compassion and kindness towards someone else.
This is because the Supreme Being Himself is merciful and compassionate:
“Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for His mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” (2 Samuel 24:14)
Why is mercy and compassion so important?
So why are mercy and compassion so important to both the Supreme Being and Jesus? Why does Jesus make such a big deal about the Jewish judges not having mercy and compassion upon those who they sentence?
Because we are all related. We are all family. Would we condemn our child or a brother or sister of this body to a harsh sentence for offending us? Certainly not. We would have leniency and forgiveness because of our relationship with them.
In the same way, each of us is related because we are each one of the Supreme Being's children. Beneath this temporary physical body, we are each eternal spirit-persons - created by the Supreme Being to be (if we choose to be) one of His loving servants and playmates.
This is the deeper message of Jesus' statement here. He is wanting those Jewish judges to see who we are beneath these physical bodies. Our physical body will die at some point and with it will die our identification with it. We will lose our name, our money, our house, and our physical family at the time of death.
The only thing we will have then is our relationship with the Supreme Being and His children. If we have nurtured and developed that relationship during our lives, then we will have paved a way for us to return home to our real family.
But if we have alienated the Supreme Being by activities that harm our fellow children of the Supreme Being, we will have forsaken our natural position within the Supreme Being's loving family.
This is why we are here in this physical world in the first place. We have forsaken our loving relationship with the Supreme Being and His children because we became self-centered. So we fell from the spiritual realm into the physical world and took on a physical body - which, by the Supreme Being's compassionate design, allows us to forget our relationship with Him.
So those who decide we want to return to that relationship must follow the guidance of Jesus, who instructed:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matt. 22:37-38)