Read Matthew 5:17-48
17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
21"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
25"Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
27"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
31"It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' 32But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
33"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' 34But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
38"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' 39But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (NIV)
We stay in the Sermon on the Mount for our second troublesome passage. When we look at this passage, Jesus is very pro the Law – the Torah. Statements like, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisee and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” This one statement seems to contradict so much of what is said of the Pharisee and the teachers of the law in the rest of the Gospels. Jesus always seemed at odds with these people.
Now, we know that Matthew would record this teaching by Jesus later in his Gospel where Jesus says, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” (Matt 23: 2-3)
Jesus in this passage is not lifting up the Pharisee, but the law. Someone once asked this question in a Bible study, “How is it possible to view a set of laws as a liberating means of salvation?” For Paul, the purpose of the law was to point to our need for Christ. The law in Paul’s view showed that we were sinners in that we could not uphold the law no matter how hard we tried.
Most people view laws as prohibitive and not liberative. But laws actually do more than say what we cannot do. They give us boundaries in what we can do. We need boundaries in life to live life to the fullest. This was a study seen in children years ago. A group of children were taken to a large field and told they could play in the field. Most of the kids stayed in one area. Later a fence was installed in part of the field, but larger that the area the first group played in. A group of children were taken to the same field and told they could only play in the fenced in area. The children played all the way up to the edges of the fence, thus utilizing more of the field than when there was no fence. The boundaries helped them.
We see this in many aspects of our life. Imagine driving through Atlanta where I75 and I85 come together and there are no lined on the road. The traffic would be so much worse and probably allow few people on the road at the same time. The boundaries allow more people to enjoy the road.
The main point that Jesus makes in this passage is about our righteousness. Do you see righteousness as something proactive rather than passive? How is righteousness something we do or strive for? For many Christians, righteousness is a way of being as well as a direction we are headed. We try to be more righteous, closer to God with each day by seeking what God seeks. And it is our attitude and our desires that make us righteous as our attitude and desires impact our actions a great deal. In this passage, Jesus, like a good rabbi, takes the law and shows one how to strive to deal with it by exaggerating it. It is not just don’t commit adultery, but don’t even have thoughts of doing it. Our thoughts are the first act toward disobedience. We typically imagine it or justify it in our mind before we commit an act.
What does this part of the Sermon on the Mount speaks to you? Are there parts you struggle with? What does it mean to be righteous in your mind?
Blessings and Peace