I tell you, then, that you will be able to enter the Kingdom of heaven only if you are more faithful than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees in doing what God requires.
So Jesus has already said that he did not come to change the Law of Moses or the teachings of the prophets. However, I am convinced that Jesus came to change our relationship to the Law and the teachings. He invites us to look past the law to the truth. Like intelligent, reasonable, mature human beings.
On the basis of the teachings that immediately follow this scripture, I think Jesus is trying to show his disciples a new way to look at the law. He came to change our legalistic mindset and eliminate our preoccupation with punishment. He is saying that the law is truth, not just an exercise in memorization and mindless obedience.
Just like judges in American courts, Jesus wants us all to use our God-given wisdom to understand the law and apply it to our lives taking into account the intent of the law, the precedents, as well as our individual circumstances and then consider how it all affects all concerned. We are to be obedient to the spirit (truth), but not necessarily the “letter” of the law, taking into consideration all of the contradictory messages delivered by all of the prophets both in the Bible and in contemporary times. The overall result is supposed to be peace, harmony and the common good. And God is the judge, the only one who has the right to decide the case.
Jeremiah 31:31-33 says, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
I thing Jesus wants to affirm Jeremiah’s prophecy. Our goal should be to study both the law and teachings of the prophets, then pray about it until the truth of it becomes part of us, written on our hearts, so that we live out of the truth without even thinking about it. So that everything we do is kind, loving, for the good of all involved, and for the benefit of all mankind without even thinking about it. That our first thought would not be for ourselves but for others. I just saw a great quote on Facebook attributed to Swami Sai Premananda, “Practice love until you remember that you are love.” I think that’s the goal.
The best example I can think of is the difference between Andy & Barney on the old Andy Griffith Show. Both Andy and Barney know the letter of the law, but they have a different approach to enforcement. Barney repeatedly gets into trouble because of his legalistic approach. He is always trying to punish people for every minor infraction. Andy, on the other hand, invariably administers true justice because he has the law written on his heart. He administers the law in a way that results in peace, harmony, and the common good. He rarely hands out punishments.
I think Jesus is telling his disciples that the Pharisees and teachers of the Law are acting like Barney, always eager to punish. Jesus says that it’s not good enough to be like Barney. To try to be a big man. To relish exercising authority. To make people feel bad.
Jesus tells his disciples they can do better job than the Pharisees and teachers of the Law when it comes to revealing the loving heart of God. They can teach the world that God is – and wants us to be – more like Andy.
In the next set of scriptures he gives very specific examples of how they can do this.
In case you’ve never seen Barney and Andy in action – check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCB5YmpxBqo
What does this scripture say to you?