Over the last few weeks, I’ve been speaking in the evenings from what is known as the Beatitudes, or The Sermon On The Mount. Each week I’m hitting a different chapter and drawing attention to themes of the Jesus-way.
In understanding this sermon, it helps to know why Matthew wrote it.
Matthew, a redeemed Tax Collector – someone in whom Jews loved to hate – is writing to fellow Jews, explaining that Jesus was indeed their long-awaited Messiah. He is intentionally contrasting Jesus with another Hebrew legend – Moses – who himself once ascended a hill to speak with God. Although, in Moses day, only he was allowed up the blazing mountain. Now, Matthew paints Jesus on a mountain, amidst a mass of believers listening to his every word: God is now accessible to all!
“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees, you’ll by no means enter the Kingdom of heaven”, Jesus said. He then unfolds a discourse on what true righteousness looks like. He offers a bunch of scenarios where the people “had heard it said before”: that is they’d heard it said by Moses and passed down through their religion: a righteousness commanded by law.
In the last scenario in chapter 5, Jesus ends with what might seem a pretty harsh statement: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect!” On the surface of things our attitude to this statement today is not far from how first century Jews would have felt. Veiled with a legal jurisprudent premise, they – like us – would have thought this to be a harsh impossibility. For a long time this bold and brave sentence has been pulled from its context, blinded by the law of Moses. But this joyful edict comes to us at the end of Jesus letting us know that God’s righteousness is all about the way we:
treat our brother and sister
honour the opposite sex
love our spouse
talk truthfully to one-another
bless those who annoy us
and love… even our enemies.
Righteousness is right-relationships. And the perfection Jesus champions us to, is the perfection of love. Our heavenly Father loves on the righteous, and the unrighteous; the just and the unjust, the believer and the unbeliever – God loves on all. The ‘perfect’ we’re called to can never be motivated or fulfilled by a heavy rule, but only by the receiving of God’s love burning on the inside of a heart, and flowing in an offering to others.