Sirach15:15-20; 1Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
This Sunday’s readings feature Jesus, the boot camp sergeant:”Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” At first glance, such a statement seems downright unreasonable. The scribes and Pharisees were the recognized religious leaders and authorities among the common people who made up Jesus’ audience. The Pharisees (despite the bad press they often receive in the gospels) in particular had a reputation for devout study of the Torah and deep piety. For Jesus to demand that his followers surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees is something like saying that, unless you can play baseball better than Babe Ruth, or possess more scientific brilliance than Albert Einstein, don’t even bother trying.
St. Paul, as he reflects upon this mystery we call the kingdom of heaven, offers an insight that casts Jesus’ words in a different light: “What eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has ready for those who love him.” The kingdom of heaven – the reality of what life is like outside of time and space when we are fully and completely experiencing God’s presence – is like nothing we will experience during our earthly journeys. “Righteousness” is not so much about figuring out through much study and prayer the right path to follow – that simply isn’t possible for us to do. Righteousness is much more about how open we are to being led by the Holy Spirit down a path we can at best only catch glimpses of. And our willingness to be open to the Spirit is in direct proportion to our openness to love. In fact, it is the same thing.
Jesus’ criticism of the scribes and Pharisees is not that their efforts to learn the Torah and pray the Torah are without merit. In fact, Jesus takes his Jeish faith quite seriously as well. What gets Jesus so upset is their terribly misguided belief that it is their knowledge and prayer, and not God, which will bring them to the kingdom. Righteousness is not about what we do. It’s about what we let God do through us.
This week, let your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Stop leading the band. Listen to the music and play the notes, however imperfectly, with great joy.
Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)
The previous context of Mt. 3-4 help introduce this new kingdom of heaven (the kingdom of God), and its empowering grace, the Spirit. In Mt. 3, after John the Baptist condemns the Pharisees as “snakes,” as fruitless trees (full of religious leaves with little love), he says the coming king will baptize with the Spirit. When Jesus is baptized, the heavens open and the Spirit descends and anoints Jesus as the new king; the kingdom of (and from) heaven has arrived. In Mt. 4 the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert to suffer hunger and temptations; then he begins to call disciples to follow him. So this new kingdom of disciples will be given the Spirit by the new king, and thus be empowered to do as their king did and taught.