March 14, 2012: The Twenty-First Day of Lent
March 14, 2012 § 1 Comment
Therefore, whoever 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 does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. ~ Matthew 5.19, 20 ~
Having explained his relationship to the Law, Jesus now “ups the ante” again before getting into specifics. Since he has come as the fulfillment of the Law, to accomplish what the Law could not do in establishing proper relationship, he encourages his audience not to abolish the law themselves. Christ did not come to abolish the Law; why should those who hear his message abolish it? Rather, Christ has come to fulfill the Law, and his disciples participate in that fulfillment. If people do not live according to the fulfillment of the Law – they do not live in righteousness, proper relationship between God and creation as brought about by Christ – then they have missed the point. They have missed the Kingdom of Heaven.
But the audience would have been confused here. At this time, who teaches the Law and follows it faithfully? The scribes and the Pharisees do – but how can one be more righteous than them? If the scribes and Pharisees have no share in God’s Kingdom, how could anyone?
As he does at other points in his ministry, Jesus calls out the scribes and Pharisees here for missing the point. They still operate by the unfulfilled Law, valuing its regulations above its goal of reuniting God and creation. Time and again, Christ will take issue with the religious elite on this point. Shelton says this: “The issue was the quality and end of the law, not its quantity.” (LinSNTC, pg. 158)
Earlier in the chapter, Christ told us who the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to – the poor in spirit, the persecuted ones. Those who have embraced the truths and the realities that we saw in the Beatitudes. This is the fulfilled law – the Law as Christ intended it to be. The religious elite, for all their discussion, study, and teaching, have missed the point.
In the next section, Christ will begin practical demonstrations of this by again “taking things to the next level.” He will do this to demonstrate the heart of the Law so that his audience can look past the technicalities of it. But for today, we might do well to consider the idea of righteousness. If we believe that life as a Christian is living by a set of proper behaviors, beliefs, and feelings, then we have missed the point – just like the scribes and Pharisees. We have replaced their ancient law with our own updated version, but we are guilty of the same mistake.
Rather, righteousness is found in the realities of the Kingdom of Heaven as Christ taught in the Beatitudes. Blessed are those who live by these teachings, for they are living the Law as Christ intended.
Lord Christ, please continue to write your Law upon my heart. Help me to get past the understandings of, “Christians do this, Christians don’t do that.” Let my guiding star be my relationship with you. Amen.
Quote taken from Dr. James B. Shelton’s contribution on the Gospel of Matthew to The Life in the Spirit New Testament Commentary. Edited by French L. Arrington and Roger Stronstad. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.