(This is the third installment of The Awesomeness Conspiracy’s 2015 Lenten devotional on the Sermon on the Mount. Follow us to receive e-mail updates for each new post.)
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The righteousness of the Pharisees.
How could they ever expect to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees? These were the nobodies that nobody wants to be around, these crowds who had gathered to hear Rabbi Jesus speak. “Righteous” was never a word anyone used to describe them.
The Pharisees, though. Righteous through and through.
Don’t believe it? Just ask them.
The gatekeepers of the law. Judges of what is clean and unclean. Constabularies of thought and action. Arbiters of what fulfills and what abolishes Torah. Self-appointed authorities of binding and loosing.
And yet, these nobodies—the unclean, the unlawful, the unrighteous—Jesus calls them “blessed.” Theirs, he says, is the Kingdom of Heaven.
But a kingdom, it seems, they cannot enter unless their righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees and the keepers of the law.
Did he really just say that?
Could it be that the righteousness of the Pharisees is no righteousness at all?
Surely this is not the Law of Moses.
But…I have come not to abolish Torah, but to fulfill it.
What is this new teaching? Surely this is not what they have always heard, what their traditions have always taught.
But what if?
What if the teachings and traditions have missed the mark?
What if this Kingdom is not one of clean and unclean, of legal and illegal, of in and out?
What if fulfilling Torah is not about being right, but about being light?
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.
Where there is harm, there is no righteousness.
Where there is discrimination, there is no righteousness.
Where there is exclusion, there is no righteousness.
Where there is marginalization, there is no righteousness.
The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is no righteousness at all.
Want to be great in the Kingdom of Heaven? Jesus asks. Don’t act like them.
Don’t harm. Don’t discriminate. Don’t exclude. Don’t marginalize.
Heal. Accept. Include. Embrace.
They thought Jesus was turning things upside-down. But now, they are beginning to see, he’s turning things rightside-up.