So then, whoever disobeys even the least important of the commandments and teaches others to do the same, will be least in the Kingdom of heaven. On the other hand, whoever obeys the Law and teaches others to do the same, will be great in the Kingdom of heaven.
If you know about the life of Jesus and what he did, you know that he disobeyed the Sabbath laws on several occasions. If you take this statement literally, then because Jesus himself broke the laws and commandments that are part of the Law of Moses, Jesus is now the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. Really? That doesn’t seem quite right. What the heck is this about???
One idea – In this scripture I think Jesus is telling his disciples that the commandments (Law of Moses/teachings of the prophets) reveal something about the Kingdom of Heaven, so that those who obey the Law while they are here on earth will be well rehearsed and fully prepared to hit the ground running in the Kingdom of Heaven. You get a head start in the next world by practicing its rules in this one. Just as studying the constitution of the United States in the 8th grade prepares us to be good American citizens, studying and practicing the Law of Moses and teachings the prophets (both ancient and contemporary) prepare us to be good citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Another idea – I think Jesus is saying that justice will be administered in the Kingdom of Heaven, so humanity is released from the responsibility of punishing those who break the Law. In Isaiah 63:4 God says, “I decided that the time to save my people had come; it was time to punish their enemies.” Jesus is saying that God will give everyone their proper seat in heaven. God sorts it all out in the end so I don’t have to worry about fixing everyone.
People aren’t very good at enforcing God’s laws. Like the Pharisees and teachers of the Law in Jesus’ time, earthly enforcers of God’s laws become legalistic, prideful, judgmental, tyrannical, and merciless. The power goes to their heads. People are created to love and encourage one another, not to punish one another. God is the first, last, and final authority when it comes to justice and the enforcement of his own laws. He’s the dad; we’re the kids. We are not in charge.
Third Thought – Another interesting thing about this scripture is that Jesus says that you can still enter the Kingdom of Heaven even if you disobey! You are not turned away! I seem to recall people trying to teach me that if you disobey God even ONCE, for even the TINIEST infraction you are such an offense to God that you are condemned to hell for all eternity. Maybe it says that somewhere else in the Bible by someone else, but here in his own words Jesus affirms that God is a God of grace and he has a seat waiting for us in heaven. Even if we mess up. Even without that upcoming crucifixion.
One More Thought – Jesus implies that it’s actually possible to obey the law and teach others to do the same. I continue to be amazed at his confidence in his disciples. There is no sign that he believes in original sin (the theory that all are sinful from birth because of what went on in the garden of Eden – one of those totally whacked inventions of the church). Later on in the Bible the apostle Paul says in Romans 3:23, “everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence.” How many times have I heard this preached? Too many apparently, because that isn’t what Jesus says here. Jesus doesn’t discourage or disparage his followers or express any doubts about their abilities like Paul does. He doesn’t prepare them for failure. Like a good parent or a good coach. That’s one of the reasons I follow Jesus instead of Paul.
Jesus as the least? – Many years later, in the book to the Hebrews, written by an unknown group of Christians, Jesus is painted as the great high priest at the right hand of God. It’s a compelling picture. At the beginning of this reflection I pointed out that Jesus violated the Sabbath laws, so according to his own pronouncement he would be among “the least in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Personally, I don’t think that wouldn’t bother him at all. I don’t think he wanted to be anyone’s great high priest. He didn’t think much of priests. He was a humble guy, a servant of others. He said repeatedly that everyone should live to serve and put others first. He would gladly open the door to heaven to let others go in first and take the best seats. He would sit in the back. That would make him super happy. It was never his goal to be the greatest, and it shouldn’t be our goal. Even the worst seats in the Kingdom of Heaven are awesome. And even in life here on earth it’s OK not to be the best. It’s OK to be the least. It really is. It’s OK.
The George Bailey Connection – Finally, it’s not enough to obey the law. The scripture says we have to teach it. It’s not something we’re supposed to keep to ourselves for our own benefit. But to teach it we have to know it. And we can’t know it if we don’t study it and pray about it and test it and experience it.
And to teach it we have to do it. We teach not just through our words but also through our actions. Once again the words of Jesus stress how important we are, and how everything we say and do affects others for good or evil. Don’t let the devil tell you that what you do or say doesn’t matter! Like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we have tremendous power to change the world for the better even if we don’t know have any idea what we are doing. Even when feel like we’re failing miserably. We can all make the world a better place in our own special way without even knowing it.
So we need to keep listening to God and keep praying that he will guide and direct us to “obey and teach” his commandments. In all we say and do. Taking the high road, making every minute count. Not so that we can be the greatest, but because God is the hope of all mankind. He is creation, peace, forgiveness, healing, wisdom, justice, love and so much more. And do the best we can because we want to please Jesus, who seems to believe in us so much more than we believe in ourselves.
What does this scripture say to you?