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Unless Your Righteousness….

These are three of the most difficult words spoken by Jesus as he describes life in community.  In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which we are studying through the month of June, between the Beatitudes and the six “Greater Righteousness” statements, which are the topic of our work Sunday (Mt. 5.21-48), Jesus says these words.  "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom  of heaven (5.20).”  Are you kidding me right now?

Isn’t the whole purpose of Jesus to offer grace?  Isn’t grace the universal “get out of jail free” card, alleviating us from any ethical requirements?  Maybe the same Jesus who instructs us to pluck out our eye if it causes us to sin, which is obviously hyperbole, is just pulling our leg on that whole “unless your righteousness” thing.  Yet, Jesus is pretty clear about the six instances of greater righteousness.  Is he seriously calling us to form an alternate community of faith, founded on values that are so far out of the bounds of what passes as behavior and public discourse in today’s culture?  I mean, I resonate with Moises Niam quoted by Kristina Foltz of the LA Times when she recounts the three “P’s” of aspiring autocrats: populism, polarization, and post-truth.  This seems to be how we have decided to order our society.  Any call to accountability means the system is broken, rather than the named person being in the wrong.  Jesus seems somehow quaint and out of touch with the real world.  Jesus has become irrelevant.  He should stay in his own lane which is simply being our mascot, you know, one who blesses whatever we decide to undertake.

Yet, these three words are convicting for persons who are not necessarily “Christian,” but seek to follow Jesus.  There is only one rule of law in the kingdom: love.  Love makes no allowance for hostility, it is not predatory, it is supreme in marriage (and yes, all means all).  Love is truthful, it does not retaliate, and even extends to enemies.  These are the six greater righteousness’, all framed in love of neighbor, the ultimate expression of love of God (Mt. 22:34-40).

This is Jesus’ claim on us as his followers.  It is breathtakingly counter cultural.  It can be personally dangerous.  But it is the hallmark of the Kingdom of Heaven, which we have been called to live into.  We have much to discuss on Sunday.

See you then,


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