Scripture: Matthew 5:17-20
Key verse: (20) For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Reflection: “Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you.” That’s the opening line from a catchy song from the musical “Annie Get Your Gun.” Human beings are able to create competition even when there isn’t a true competition. Sometimes we even treat our spiritual lives like competitions. Who prays the most? The best? The longest? With the most eloquent words? Who has memorized the most Bible verses? Who does the most “good”? Who gives the most time or money?
I wonder if that’s what Jesus’ followers heard when he told them that their righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. If they sacrifice a lamb, then we should sacrifice two lambs. If they study the Torah for two hours, we should study for four hours. Anything they do, we must do better.
Jesus isn’t talking about a competition for righteousness. This isn’t about quantity of activities. This is about the quality of a faithful lifestyle. Quality not quantity. Jesus isn’t keeping a tally sheet of your good works today. There’s no chore chart in heaven with stickers to mark what you do and a candy prize to win for doing the most. The religious leaders in Jesus’ time were ensnared in that kind of religious competition.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches his followers what righteousness looks like. Being righteous is about being in right relationship with God and with one another. Being righteous is grounding all of our relationships in love. We are called to live with exceeding righteousness, that is, with overflowing love for God and for our neighbors. Righteousness is about abundant generous love that isn’t measured out in little portions. And, by the way, following Jesus isn’t a competition!
Prayer: Dear Lord, free me from comparing myself spiritually to those around me. Assure me that I am loved by you without exception and enable me to share that love with those around me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Author: Millie Snyder
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].