“…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.”
As our Shepherd continues to lead us home, He warns us that even if we know the Way, even if we know how to pray and speak to our Father, even if we see Jesus for who He truly is, there is more: we must live according to all these things. The scribes and Pharisees lived according to the Law, and they followed it to the letter; no one could fault them, save for Jesus, for He sees the heart. Time and again He exhorts them to deeper holiness, to the deeper Law which God has written on the hearts of all people (Jeremiah 31:33): to follow the Law not for its own sake, but because they love God. In other words, to love God not merely by their actions, but with their whole heart, being, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5).
So He tells us today, as He told His disciples, that our own holiness must surpass that of the Scribes and Pharisees: we must not only follow the Law—since they also followed the Law—but our actions must come from a holy heart. The Law tells us not to murder; the scribes and Pharisees didn’t murder, and neither have we likely murdered anyone. But is not killing anyone enough to fulfill the Law; is it sufficient for us to be “nice people?” Jesus tells us no, that we also break the Law when we, in essence, murder someone within our hearts. Does not the horror of murder begin in the heart, when a person interiorly slaughters whatever charity and respect they have for the intended victim? Once that image of the victim is slain, it is only a step further to make that interior act a reality.
We may think this is extreme, but consider lesser sins like gossip, lustful thoughts, and so on. When we indulge in gossip about someone, how long does it take before the way we treat that person in real life starts to mirror how we’ve treated them in conversation with others? When we indulge intentionally in lustful thoughts about a person, or about people in general, how long does it take before that interior reality begins to manifest itself in how we treat that person, or such people? “From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks,” Jesus teaches in Luke’s Gospel (6:45). All intentional actions begin in the heart: He calls out the scribes and Pharisees for living a lie, and He challenges us to be people of integrity, for our actions to correspond to our hearts, rather than our minds. He calls us to be reconciled with one another, that the gift He desires us to bring to the altar is not bread and wine, but hearts that live out His great teaching, “…love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:14). This is not only the key to surpassing the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, He tells us today, but it is the key to unlocking the very gates of Heaven.