“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20 ESV)
The disciples’ righteousness is righteousness under the cross. It is the righteousness of the poor, the mournful, the hungry, the meek, the peacemakers, and the persecuted—for the sake of the call of Jesus. It is the visible righteousness of those who in following him become the light of the world and the city on a hill—for the sake of the call of Jesus. The disciples’ righteousness is “better than that of the Pharisees in that it rests solely on the call into the community of Jesus, who alone has fulfilled the law. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Without Jesus and the cross, the law stands between us and God. This was the Pharisees’ predicament. They desired to please God and their response was to expand on the law to keep from breaking it. In the process, they created an impossible environment that excluded many. In reading the gospels, the Pharisees seem to have no interest in a personal relationship with God or in developing a loving community of people who desire that kind of relationship. Repeatedly, their words to Jesus are, “You broke the rules!”
Bonhoeffer has consistently stated Jesus views obedience as an essential element of discipleship. Something must be different with Jesus or we are left with the same quandary that the Pharisees faced. The fact that Jesus has died doesn’t make it any more possible for us to keep all the law. Those who have read the Sermon on the Mount know that Jesus is going make it harder and not easier if it is our effort that matters.
That is the whole point of this section. Since Jesus has fulfilled the law on the cross, the law no longer stands between us and Jesus. If we have accepted Jesus’ call, then we are in relationship with Him and in community with everyone else who has accepted this call. We also have a righteousness that exceeds anything the best Pharisee could achieve, because we have been given the righteousness of Christ.
None of this makes sense unless I am united with Christ. I admit that I don’t fully understand how that happens. I have been thinking that it implies asking a different question every morning when I get out of bed. My typical thought is, “What am I going to do today?” What if instead I asked, “What is Jesus going to do today?”
Think about this. When the disciples were following Jesus around Galilee, isn’t that the question they would ask themselves? They were in community with Jesus and following Him wherever He went. They had given up their right to self-determination and substituted a Jesus determined future. In the process, they had also given up striving for perfection and replaced it with following someone who is perfect.
For more thoughts on this you might want to listen to the message our minister taught on this passage. You can find it here.