LORD of all power and might, Who art the Author and Giver of all good things; Graft in our hearts the love of Thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of Thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
--Common Service Book of the Lutheran Church
For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.
--Matthew 5.20-26 (NKJV)
Jesus' words here tend to fall on calloused ears today. In light of our familiarity with the gospels, we disparage the Pharisees and do anything but hold them in high esteem, but to Jesus' hearers, his words were shocking and scandalous. The Pharisees were highly respected members of the Jewish community, incredibly devout and revered laymen who were the envy of all Jews who took their faith seriously.
In light of this background, read Jesus' words again. He tells us that unless we more righteous than the most righteous, devout, sanctified person you can think of, we will fail to make it into the Kingdom. This is shocking and hardly good news...until we recognize from whence our righteousness truly comes.
Our righteousness before each other is seen in our good works and pious living, but we know such righteousness is imperfect and falls short. We strive daily to live righteous and holy lives in order share the saving news of God in Christ Jesus and live out the command to love our neighbors though such works will never earn us a place in heaven. Thankfully, our righteousness before God--by which we are judged worthy or not to enter the Kingdom--comes only from Christ as a gift and is perfect in every way. Our righteousness is always tarnished by sin. In Christ's righteousness, however, we may find sure and certain hope.
O Thou, to Whose All-Searching Sight (Nikolas Ludwig Zinzendorf, translated by John Wesley)
O THOU, to Whose all-searching sight
The darkness shineth as the light,
Search, prove my heart; it pants for Thee!
O burst these bonds, and set it free.
Wash out its stains, refine its dross;
Nail my affections to the Cross;
Hallow each thought; let all within
Be clean as Thou, my Lord, art clean.
If in this darksome wild I stray,
Be Thou my Light, be Thou my Way;
No foes, no evil, need I fear,
If Thou, my Lord, my God, art near.
Saviour, where’er Thy steps I see,
Dauntless, untired, I’d follow Thee;
O let Thy hand support me still,
And lead me to Thy holy hill.
If rough or thorny be the way,
My strength proportion to my day;
Till toil, and grief, and pain shall cease,
Where all is calm, and joy, and peace.
Photo by Adrien Tutin on Unsplash