“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.”
Considering that the Pharisees get such a bad rap most of us probably overlook this statement from Christ. Let us take a moment to examine their “righteousness”.
The Pharisees were deeply concerned with following the law and did so with strict adherence to the minutia. This was so extreme that they separated themselves from the general public and formed several holy communities within Jerusalem. They took a vow of obedience that included tithing, ceremonial laws, and dietary purity. They were watched very carefully by the scribes, who interpreted the law, to make sure they were doing all of these things. These men studied the Torah, never failed to carefully observe the Sabbath, and ate together in community.
So, what does Jesus mean when he says “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees?” Many of us may be challenged when we reread the paragraph above and compare ourselves to the religious practices of the Pharisees. Yet, even with all these pious practices, an essential ingredient appears to be lacking. Jesus is concerned with the heart – not merely the letter of the law but so much more! Jesus is calling us to look beyond the minimum. He came to redeem the very core of our being and even the intentions behind our actions.
What about us? How well are we following the 10 Commandments? What about the Beatitudes? What are the intentions behind our actions?
The entire Gospel and measure of our lives can be summed up in one word: Love! In the Kingdom of Heaven only one thing remains. Until we rid ourselves of all but love we still have lots to let go of. This is why we go out into the desert with Christ for Lent each year. It’s a purging and a pruning that is ordered towards love.
This is also why Jesus could condense the law and the message of the prophets down to one single phrase, to love one another as he has loved us! In the end, we will be judged on one thing: How well did we love? This question is what should guide our spiritual lives.
Let us enter ever more deeply into our journey with Christ this Lent and allow the Holy Spirit to envelope the intentions of our hearts and inspire all our actions.
Prayer: Lord, help us take one step closer to your heart this Lent. Let us not be pious merely for the sake of piety. Instead, set our hearts on fire that we may we be fully alive with Divine Love. May your love be the force that drives all our actions, devotions, obedience and religious practices. May your Divine Life shine through us and set us free. Amen.
Mark Hartfiel is Vice President of Paradisus Dei, Developers of the That Man is You! men’s program and The Choice Wine couple’s program. He is the Author of The School of Nazareth, a 30-day journey with St. Joseph.