Matthew 5:17-37, Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:20)
If heaven were a country, entering it will take more than just fulfilling all visa requirements. Apparently, the scribes and Pharisees did not get this advisory. Or they got it but chose to ignore it. They thought entry into the eternal gardens was just a matter of ticking off the checkboxes that were the commandments. It was, after all, convenient.
Jesus is clear today. You cannot get to heaven on sheer compliance with the commandments. He even ups the ante and says, you have heard it said before…, but now I say to you…. So it was said to your ancestors, you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not lie. But now I say to you, anger or lust or even flip-flopping on your word is just as grievous. So much for mortal and venial and all the layers in between.
You get his drift and it is a heavy one. Who has not been angry, who is not without lust, who has not wavered on their word? Who can possibly enter this country?
For us, by our lonesome, impossible. With God, by his grace, nothing is impossible.
Jesus is also clear that he is not about to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. And to fulfill them, he issues a dare: surpass the righteousness of your religious leaders. Their religiosity does not go deep. Go beyond the letter of the law. Dive from the surface of externals into the heart of the matter.
The clarity of externals is safe, if deceptive. The surface is supposed to reflect the spirit beneath. The letter of the law is there to express the heart of the matter. But here’s the rub: you can always dump the spirit if the spirit does not suit you. You can always just play with the letter of the law. You can game the commandments in the same way the shameless get around the rule of law by tinkering with technicalities. You can fool others into believing you are right or just or true. You can even fool yourself.
But you cannot fool God. And chances are on entry, you won’t even get past St Peter and the angels in immigration.
The commandments are not so much about the rule of law and order as they are about the rule of love and mercy. Law and order can be a matter of complying with a collection of commandments. For love and mercy, thankfully, your heart alone is your passport, no visa required.
I know we should be thankful that the Lord looks beyond the surface and into our hearts. But honestly, if you looked beyond the externals and into your heart, would you let you or the likes of you into heaven?
When Jesus was asked about the very core of the law and the prophets, when he was asked about the heart of the matter, he replied: You shall love God with everything that you are, and your neighbor as yourself.
There you go. All the commandments and all the consequent rules and regulations are summed up in those three loves. For centuries, we’ve tried to codify those loves and even separate them. But they are not meant to be detached from each other. You can profess your undying love for God all you want, but if your love of God is separate from your love of others and your love of self, your love is empty, if not all for show.
Examine then your heart that is your passport to heaven. Turn the pages of your heart to see the many times and places you’ve been to in your life. Upon your entry to the eternal country, I see no need for you to worry if those times and places have been stamped already with your love and mercy.