April 8, 2016
20 For 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.
Suppose you were a passionately committed beginning violinist. And what if I said to you, “Unless your performance can surpass that of the great virtuoso violinist, Josh Bell, you might as well pack it up and go home. Forget about it.” What could be more discouraging than this? This gets at how Jesus’ hearers may have understood what he was saying on the surface: unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law… pack it up and go home.
Despite the way they have been characterized over the centuries, we must understand the Scribes and Pharisees were not bad guys. They were actually the most respected First Methodist Church people in town. (o.k., First Baptist Church People) ;0) The Scribes and Pharisees were in the NBA of Scriptural Holiness. Olympians, All-Stars, Hall-of-Famers- pick your most powerful sports analogy and apply it to religious devotion and you are getting close. It would be impossible to beat them at their game.
That’s probably what infuriated them so much with Jesus. He changed the game. The new rules? It would not be about the perfection of performance any longer. The new deal was all about the perfection of Love. And the perfection of Love would not be a performance but a deep inner passion; not a righteousness of a higher degree, but of another order of magnitude.
Wesley has a ton to say about this verse. Here’s a snippet.
Their [the Pharisees] righteousness was external only: Christian righteousness is in the inner man. The Pharisee “cleansed the outside of the cup and the platter”; the Christian is clean within. The Pharisee labored to present God with a good life; the Christian with a holy heart. The one shook off the leaves, perhaps the fruits, of sin; the other “lays the axe to the root,” as not being content with the outward form of godliness, how exact soever it be, unless the life, the Spirit, the power of God unto salvation, be felt in the inmost soul. Thirteen Discourses on the Sermon on the Mount.
This comes not from sustained religious striving but from the infused righteousness of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Holy Love.
We must keep remembering the secret of THE SERMON: As with Jesus, so with us. The way is not religious striving but radical surrender and submission to God. It leads to the most beautiful way of life on Earth—a life of Holy Love— because it opens up the way of “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Everything else, no matter how well intentioned, is at best an empty substitute and at worst a brazen counterfeit.
Sola Sancta Caritas! It means, “Only Holy Love!” Once this becomes the “Rule” of our lives we will never need to worry about “the rules” again.
External image management is straight from the pit of hell. Mirroring the image of God deep within means life in the Kingdom of God—on Earth as it is in Heaven.
1. How do you relate to this idea of the difference between following the “Rule” of Jesus (i.e. a life infused by Holy Love) and following the rules. Do you see how the former leads to the latter but the latter does not necessarily lead to the former. Thoughts?
2. When it comes to becoming a person of Holy Love, what is the difference between trying to become that by “striving” as opposed to “surrender and submission?”
3. How much are you concerned with outward appearance and image management when it comes to what others think? What would it mean to become a person who was far more concerned with imaging God deep within than managing an external image?
J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.