The Fullness of Righteousness

February 12, 2023
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
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Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20–22

The scribes and Pharisees were masters of the Old Law. Now that the Messiah had arrived, they were unwilling to go deeper and move beyond the Old Testament teachings that they often misrepresented. They preferred a black-and-white approach to morality that had been with them for centuries and did not want to change when presented with Jesus’ new and higher calling.

Today’s Gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which began with the Beatitudes. In today’s portion of Jesus’ sermon, we are taught about anger, adultery and oaths. In every case, Jesus refers to the Law as it was taught in the Old Testament but then elevates it to an entirely new level. The line quoted above makes it clear that the only way to accept these new teachings of Jesus was to surpass the “righteousness” of the scribes and Pharisees. And the dire result of not surpassing their righteousness was the loss of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus begins by recalling the Old Testament commandment, “You shall not kill.” But then He takes that commandment further by saying that “whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Of course, killing remains a grave sin. But now Jesus explains that the interior attitude of anger, even if not acted upon, is a sin. He goes on to teach a similar lesson about adultery and swearing oaths.

It is helpful to understand these new teachings in the context of the approach that the scribes and Pharisees took in regard to the Old Testament. About that, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Thus, the primary problem with the scribes and Pharisees is not that they failed to teach the Old Testament Law properly. The primary problem is that now that the Messiah has arrived and has ushered in a new time of fulfillment and righteousness, they would not go deeper and would not embrace the fulfillment of the Law of God. They are not willing to grow in holiness and embrace the fulfillment of all that had been taught before.

Reflect, today, upon the calling given to you by our Lord’s new and glorious teachings. If you are to truly embrace the Gospel of our Lord and live in His New Law of grace, then you must be willing to go deep, become truly radical in your faith, and allow God to transform every part of your life. The New Law is one of the fullness of love, mercy, surrender, zeal, conversion and transformation. Commit yourself to surpassing the old and limited righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, and God will do glorious things in your life.

Lord of all grace, You came and not only taught us about the heights of holiness, but You also lived it and have bestowed upon us all we need to imitate Your every virtue. Please fill me with Your mercy and strength so that I may live a new righteousness of the fullness of love. Jesus, I trust in You.

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Featured image above: Detail of stained glass window created by Louis Comfort Tiffany in Arlington Street Church (Boston) depicting the Sermon on the Mount. March 2009 photo by John Stephen Dwyer, via Wikimedia Commons