Trinity VI Sunday

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Trinity VI

Matthew 5: 20-26

 “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven”

 This statement is so hard to understand. Some of you might be asking yourselves, “but where is the kind and loving Christ?” Or “Why is Jesus so rude in his teaching today?”

Let me just tell you that here, Jesus is setting a standard that is extremely hard to meet; one might almost say, impossible.

Our gospel lesson today is part of the Sermon on the Mount. It comes right after the beatitudes. In this section of the Sermon, Jesus lays a new Halakha, the Jewish oral Law, with a shocking precision. Unless you are better than the “best” at keeping the law you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Unless you are perfect, you are in trouble. More specifically, if you are angry with your brother or your sister, Jesus says, you deserve to go to jail; and if you call him or her a hurtful name, you will go to hell. Before you try to come before God and do anything, you better straighten your affairs out with the people around you. Don’t even try to pretend that you are a good person and love God when you have issues with those around you, the people you can see and hear and touch. Here we remember the word of God how it says: 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar”.

You can’t bring something to God if you are withholding something from your neighbor. If you are carrying anger or hatred toward your neighbor, you can’t serve God or give him a gift, because you serve God in your neighbor. This is to say that when you give anger or hatred to those around you, you are giving that to God. That’s why Jesus says, “leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

Jesus here addresses the Pharisees who are legalists. A legalist is someone who demands perfect obedience to the law. In the church, this might be someone who says – you must worship on Sunday, you must dress a particular way, you must keep your children silent, you must not drink alcohol or smoke, you must do these things or you will be cast out from this congregation.

We certainly do not need more Pharisees in the church today! They might all tithe. They might attend every service, even Sunday night. They might fill every committee. But listen, if our churches were full of Pharisees, however, everything would look good from the outside; but something would be radically wrong on the inside.

The law had become the focus for the scribes and Pharisees. They obeyed the law and ignored basic human needs. Christianity is couched in love and grace, founded on a relationship with Jesus Christ. Rules define the scribes and Pharisees. Relationship defines the Christian.

 Many people think of the Law of God like the civil laws made by men. The courts of this world deal mainly with outward actions, because, in truth, as human beings, we cannot know much about the innermost thoughts and desires of others.

Even for psychologists, who study the human mind as a profession, it remains a mystery.

But not for God. He created humanity in all its aspects, intellectual, physical and spiritual, and knows everything about each one of us.

The purpose of God’s Law is not just to maintain order, like the civil laws, but to transform human life, in our relations with God and our neighbors. However, as sinners, we cannot accomplish this transformation by our own strength. We are not justified or saved by fulfilling the Law. Not at all!

But the Holy Spirit has the power to effect this transformation. The Spirit gives us new life in baptism, or as today’s epistle states (Romans 6:1-11), “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death…We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

We are justified by faith in Christ and saving faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism. The transformation of our lives and relationships with God and our neighbors is the fruit of this faith.

We do not look to outward actions for justification, but in baptismal renewal and the promise of salvation in Jesus Christ. We look at good works as the result of the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives.