A reading from the gospel according to Matthew 5:20-26:
Jesus said to his disciples:
20 “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.
21 “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
22 But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you,
24 leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
25 Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.
26 Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”
Reflection: Righteousness and Reconciliation
Jesus says your righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees. We all know that these religious leaders during that time were famous as critics of the Lord. They were called religious and that is all there is to them. A lot of times, Jesus called them hypocrites because they worship with their lips but their heart is far away from God (Matthew 15:18). He also rebuked them as fools and blind guides (Matthew 23:13-39).
Integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy. It is being whole – one in mind and body, meaning what is inside is the same as outside. There is moral consistency and no double standard. What you say is consistent with what you do. This is what the Pharisees and scribes lack and what Jesus abhors.
To be righteous means to be pleasing in the eyes of God because only He can read the heart of people. He knows our motivation and desires. Only God knows whether we truly love Him or our action is only for show or to gain the favor of humans. It is easy to look good in the eyes of men. We can pretend all we want but the sins of the heart such as lust, malice, pride, and jealousy cannot be hidden from God. These sins are as worthy of hell as much as murder and stealing.
Moreover, the gospel reading above speaks of anger. A humble and contrite heart does not harbor grudges and bitterness. Additionally, he does not look down on other people but instead accepts them and loves them as our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Finally, Jesus tells us the importance of reconciliation. We need to be in good terms with other people before we can enter or be part of the kingdom of God. A person who truly loves is ever ready to forgive. That is not the end. Reconciliation includes restitution and this is very clear in verse 26. There is no way out of imprisonment except by paying everything we owe.
Our gospel reading above clearly mentions two requirements in order for one to enter the Kingdom of heaven. The first is righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. We have already known these religious leaders to be strict in the observance of the laws of Moses. Yes they are very religious but that’s all. They lack real spirituality. This means they do religious practices for show but there is no love, compassion or mercy in their heart. Their relationship with God is superficial and their relationship with people is based on rules rather than love. In fact, they separated themselves from the masses because these ordinary folks were considered unholy. Above all, they rejected Jesus as the Messiah. For all these reasons, Jesus was very critical of them.
For Jesus, righteousness is faith in Him as the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. From this faith, we accept His words and live by them. He taught us how to love the Father with all our heart, with all our soul and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). If we follow these two greatest commandments, we will have eternal life. In other words, the righteousness of Jesus is based on faith, hope and love.
The second requirement to enter the Kingdom of God is reconciliation. It arises from the first requirement. Since we are not righteous because of our sins, we need to reconcile with God and with one another. For breaking the two greatest commandments, we need to ask forgiveness first from God and second from those whom we have committed sin. Because God is holy, we cannot be with Him if we are unholy. Unless we paid the last penny, we will not be released from the prison of sin and death.
God is love. Let our relationship with Him and with one another be based on love. If we love God, forgiveness is easy to do. If we love our neighbor, there is absolutely no need to tell them they are fools. If we are full of love, we are already freed from sin and death.
Dear Jesus, teach us how to love you more and more. Grant that we may enter your Kingdom as you have promised to those who believe in you. Amen.