Lent, Day 8 — Spiritual, but not Religious?

Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount
Spiritual but not religious?

Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of [the heavens]. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of [the heavens]. I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of [the heavens].
(Matthew 5:19-20 CEB)

  1. Yesterday I talked about the previous verses, where Jesus defends himself against religious accusations that he is throwing the Bible out of the window. Here he amplifies his defense. “I’m not getting rid of the Bible; I’m fulfilling it. I’m not lowering the bar,” he says. “I’m raising it.”
  2. Keep in mind, this is from the guy who lets his disciples eat without washing their hands first, who says “The sabbath was made for human beings, not human beings for the sabbath.” He sees this as keeping the Sabbath Law, not abolishing it.
  3. As much as my political and theological beliefs are closer to folks who are often called “liberal,” I wonder how most “liberal Christians” hear these words of Jesus?
  4. Can you hear these words? “Unless your righteousness is greater than your fundamentalist cousins, the Christian conservatives who go to church every Sunday and tithe and pray daily, you will never enter the kingdom of the heavens.” This is a rebuke. He is speaking both to conservatives and liberals, the people who emphasize the letter of the law and the ones who emphasize the spirit of the law.
  5. Anyone who thinks Jesus was promoting a casual attitude toward God and anyone who thinks he was just telling people to generally be nice to each other has missed the boat. This is not a spirituality for “spiritual but not religious” folks.
  6. Again, keep in mind that this is from the guy who said, “My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light” (11:30). This righteousness is not about performing for religious people. It’s about something else.
  7. I think understanding this section requires us to think outside our usual binaries of “conservative vs. liberal” or “letter of the law vs. spirit.” This is non-dualism applied to our spiritual and religious practice.
  8. Jesus is setting up the next section, where he will say that it is not enough to avoid murdering people. We must also avoid anger. It is not enough to avoid sleeping around. We must also avoid lust and objectification.
  9. He repeats the phrase “kingdom of [the heavens]” three times. Can you hear the urgency? If we don’t know what he means, we desperately need to learn.
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