19 July 2020 (Trinity Sixth Sunday Morning Prayer) Matthew 5:20
In the last few weeks, we have meditated about the kingdom of heaven, sufferings, eternal glory and the transformation of the fishermen to disciples. Today, let us meditate based on a verse from our reading, the Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 5, and verse 20. The verse says “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is one of the most familiar passages in the Bible and begins with Matthew chapter 5. When Jesus saw the multitudes, He went up to a mountain and preached about the kingdom of heaven. He began with the Beatitudes and proceeded to speak in metaphors. He then reinterpreted the Ten Commandments, and verse 20 that we just heard is part of this. In this verse, Jesus gave a conditional clause to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus compared the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees and set the limit for the clause. He said He expected the people’s righteousness to be more than that of the scribes and Pharisees.
There are arguments that this passage was relevant only to Jewish people and not to the gentiles. The reason is because, by birth and by practice the Jews are under Old Testament Laws given through Moses. The gentiles are not under Old Testament Laws and are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God.
While it is true that by birth Jews are Israelites, by faith we became the children of Abraham and God’s chosen people. We are redeemed only by the grace of Jesus and the Love of the Father. The whole Bible is the word of God and we must accept it in its entirety. Both the Old and New Testaments are interlinked, and we cannot omit either.
Coming back to the verse, Jesus said that our righteousness should exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees. First, we have to understand about the righteousness of scribes and Pharisees to understand God’s expectation on us.
What was the Righteousness of Scribes and Pharisees?
Let us turn to St. Luke 18:10-14. We read about two people in this passage. One is a Pharisee and the other one is a tax collector. These two went to the synagogue to pray. The Pharisee stood and prayed to God comparing himself with other men. He said, he was more righteous than others. He didn’t forget to inform God about his fasting and tithes. He was proud of himself and judged others. He was proud of his qualities, but we read that God was not pleased. Let us see a few qualities of the Pharisees which were not pleasing in the sight of God. In Matthew 23, Jesus spoke about dos and don’ts based on what the pharisees were doing.
1) They said and did not
In Matthew 23:3 Jesus cautioned, “All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not”. The pharisees were people in authority and were sitting in Moses’ seat. Although they were in leadership position, they did not put into practise what they preached. Verse 4 says, “they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers”. The pharisees preached according to the Law given through Moses and insisted people follow the laws, but they themselves did not follow them.
2) They did to be seen of men
In Matthew 23:5 we read “all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments”. What did the pharisees do to be seen of men? In verse 14, Jesus told that pharisees prayed long prayers. In Matthew 6 verse 2 we read that they did their alms before men. In Matthew 6 verse 16 we read that they were of a sad countenance when they fasted. They did everything to be seen by men. They sounded a trumpet and wanted to bring glory for themselves.
3) They omitted the weightier matters of the law
In Matthew 23 verse 23 Jesus pointed out another characteristic of the hypocrites: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone”. The scribes and Pharisees were very particular about paying tithe on worldly possessions. But they did not bother about the more important laws relating to judgement, mercy and faith. Verse 13 says that the scribes and Pharisees “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men”. They did not endeavour to go in themselves and did not want to allow the people to enter. In verse 15 we read that the pharisees travelled over sea and land to convert a person. But when they succeeded, they made them twice as much a child of hell as themselves. The pharisees were very knowledgeable in the laws but they chose to follow the laws that they preferred. They ignored the laws that they found hard to follow.
4) They loved prominent positions and money
Matthew 23:6 & 7 we read that the Pharisees loved the uppermost rooms at feasts, chief seats in the synagogues, greetings in the markets, and to be called Rabbi of men. They always wanted to be in superior position and honoured. In Matthew 23:14 Jesus said the scribes and Pharisees devoured widows' houses.
Let us now meditate on God’s expectation on us to inherit eternal life in the kingdom of heaven.
God expects our righteousness to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees for us to inherit eternal and everlasting life with Jesus.
- The Pharisees preached but they did not practise what they preached. The rules were for the people to follow. Jesus expects us to follow all the laws that He set down for us. We cannot preach Jesus without following what He has preached.
- The Pharisees did works so men could see them do it. In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus speaks about how we should fast, pray and give alms. We are to give our alms in secret, spend time in prayer in secret and anoint our head and wash our face when we fast. Then our heavenly Father to reward us openly.
- The Pharisees and scribes were particular about tithing their earthly goods. Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” We are encouraged to give freely.
- The Pharisees wanted the most important places in gatherings. In Luke 14:11 Jesus said, “whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Jesus lived a humble life when He ministered in this world. He is our role model.
God the Father loved the world and gave His only begotten Son to give us salvation. Jesus Christ died for us on the cross and we are redeemed by His grace. The Old Testament saints did not have a chance to experience His grace and salvation.
- The first thing Jesus wants to remind us is that the Law and Judgement is not enough to inherit eternal life with Jesus. We need His grace and salvation to inherit eternal and everlasting life with Jesus.
- Secondly, we need to be humans to hold Christian faith. God created Adam and Eve as humans, not Christians or Jews. Jesus died for all humans. Fasting, tithing and charity that the Scribes and Pharisees practised are important. But we should not be doing it for self-promotion. It should be for the glory of God. We should love our God and our neighbours as ourselves.
- Third, Judge not that ye be not judged. Pharisees judged the people by law and commandments. We cannot see anybody’s heart. Only God can see our heart. We are not in a position to judge anybody. Instead, we are called to forgive.
Let us self-examine ourselves. Matthew 6:24 says, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon”. If we serve Jesus in this world, we will be with Jesus in our eternal and everlasting life in the kingdom of heaven. We cannot pick and choose from God’s laws and commandments. More than our tithing of our earning, Micah 6:8 says what God expects from us. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” According to Colossians 1:10, we are to “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God”. May the LORD of Israel help us and prepare us to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Amen!