“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)
Today’s Gospel passage is a continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount wherein He teaches us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Jesus told us: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). However, in the course of this same sermon, we would hear Jesus say: “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1).
Now, how do we reconcile both statements of Jesus? It is one thing to let your light shine but a different thing to pretend just to attract the praise and admiration of others. When we truly let our light shine, we do it for God but when we pretend to be pious, we do it just for ourselves and we get no reward from God. Today, we hear Jesus teaching us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees’ we can never enter heaven.
What is the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees? It is practicing piety just to gain the admiration of people; pretending to be who you are not just to give the impression of holiness – it is, in the words of Jesus, “like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So, you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matthew 23:27-28) This kind of righteousness is very popular among many Christians today and Jesus is warning us that unless our righteousness goes beyond such, we can never enter heaven.
On the last day, Jesus tells us, many will come saying “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!’” (Luke 13:25-27). It is not enough to make people believe that you are a light, you must truly shine. The funny thing is that you cannot fool people for too long. Just as Jesus saw through the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, people would soon see through your pretences.
Don’t be an actor – be a Christian. And you would know if you are Christian or not when you are provoked, humiliated, and insulted by others. The way a person behaves when they are angry reveals their true colour; it is very difficult to pretend when you are angry. Jesus tells us today that anyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment, anyone who insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and anyone who says ‘you fool’ liable to the hell of fire.
A true Christian should forgive, so if you are yet to forgive and reconcile, Jesus is saying, do not bother bringing your offerings to Him. Of course, what is the point of pretending to be worshipping God when your heart is so full of bitterness?
Let us pray: Lord God, you gave the prophet Elijah to us as an example of what we are capable of being when we live truly righteous lives. Work in me and through me that I may not miss heaven through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bible Study: 1 Kings 18:41-46, Ps. 65:10-13, Matthew 5:20-26)
© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu