For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20
The Sermon on the Mount is the essence of Jesus’ teaching and the Gospel. Many of the religionists of Jesus’ day found him annoying because he took the Law and applied it in uncomfortable ways. Through the 1500 or so years since the Law had been given, the religionists had managed to twist and compromise the Law so that it would be easier to obey and more complimentary to their comfortable lifestyle. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The Law focused on the outside—acts that could be admired as righteous or those acts that could be condemned as wicked and which rendered their perpetrators as outcasts. Jesus made everything more difficult by interpreting the Law to encompass the motivation and the heart condition of its adherents.
For example, in Matthew 5:21-42, Jesus begins each new topic with something like, “You’ve heard it said [in the Law]…but I say…” Where the Law says don’t commit murder, Jesus says don’t even be angry with someone or call him demeaning names. Where the Law says don’t commit adultery, Jesus says don’t even think wrong thoughts about a woman. Jesus is looking at the heart condition that initiates the sinful behavior.
Sometimes we’re not far removed from those hypocritical Pharisees who seemed right on the outside but were filled with unrighteousness on the inside. We have to be convinced that the thing of most concern to our Father is our personal relationship with him by which everything else is determined. If our heart is right, our attitudes, our words, and our behavior will be right. We will act out of who we are and not who we pretend to be.
Remember that old metaphor about the cup of tea? When the cup is agitated, only what’s inside will come out. When Jesus fills us, any bumps along the way allow him to spill over and saturate whatever and whomever is around. No pretense necessary.
Lord, change our hearts constantly; fill us with your Spirit; and cause us to glorify you in all we think, say, and do. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:15
K. Chesterton writes a provocative story in his Father Brown series about an occurrence among a small clique of close friends. One has challenged another to a duel, and when a death results, the killer flees into exile. After many years, the friends learn that the runaway has returned but refuses to reenter society. There is great talk about forgiveness and the justification of the duel (which was legal in those days).
The well-intended friends discuss how best to coerce their friend to leave his isolation even as Fr. Brown cautions against it. Finally, they force the recluse’s hand only to discover that the living person is actually the one thought to have been killed while the dead friend was essentially murdered by the living.
The little group is incensed. Brown chastises them saying that they forgive only those sins that they think aren’t really sins (such as a duel) while tolerating “conventional” wrongs. Someone protests that what was done was vile, and Brown counters with, “…leave [me] to console those who really need consolation; who do things really indefensible, things that neither the world nor they themselves can defend; and none but a priest will pardon. Leave us with the men who commit the mean and revolting and real crimes; mean as St. Peter when the cock crew, and yet the dawn came.” By twos and threes the others left in silence. In the story Chesterton is not pardoning the killer; he is forgiving him—while pointing out the hypocrisy of his “friends.”
Do you ever quantify sin? This sin is worse than that—this is nothing while that is heinous and unforgivable. If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand (Psalm 130:3)? And yet, it’s so easy to slip onto the judge’s bench and point fingers. Let us leave the judging to God and become the best forgivers in the Kingdom. After all, he forgave us.
Father, pull me up short whenever I am tempted to withhold your forgiveness from any one. Love through me and forgive through me. Heal through me. Restore through me. For your Kingdom’s sake and for your glory. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.