“But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)
Today’s Gospel addresses several of the Ten Commandments and takes a deeper look at how we can become more righteous in our actions. Jesus is very clear on what not to do and how we should cut things out of our lives that cause us to sin. While His teachings may feel harsh, when we look deeper we realize that God has high expectations for us and believes in us, just as a parent has high expectations for their children. God calls us to a radical way of living where we are called to be more than just moral beings, but virtuous.
In the Gospel passage, Jesus begins his instruction by saying, “do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.” He adds: “whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” You may ask, what kind of righteousness would surpass that of the Pharisees? The righteousness needed to enter Heaven is not an external righteousness that the Pharisees had, but an internal righteousness that comes from loving God and His teachings. It is not enough to do the bare minimum of God’s teachings.
Jesus addresses subjects like anger, adultery, divorce, and oath-taking according to the Law. The scribes and Pharisees carefully observed the Commandments. However, Jesus was most critical of following the spirit of the Law. Meaning, we do not follow the Commandments merely because the Lord said so, but because we love God and our neighbor, and want to make the world a more loving place. In each example Jesus uses, we learn that inward obedience is just as important as our external obedience. Jesus teaches that we need both to enter heaven and in doing so we will have a closer relationship with Him and our earthly neighbors.