Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Is Change Just an Illusion? Lenten Midweek Missal (3)

Matthew 5:17-20 (CEB)

Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. 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 heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 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 heaven.

These words sound a little defensive, or at least one side of an argument. Was Jesus accused of making the Torah secondary to his teachings? Read the Sermon on the Mount, where you will find Jesus one-upping Moses, the giver of the Law!  Too, Jesus was critical of the main vehicles through which the Torah was read and understood in his day- "legal experts and Pharisees." According to Jeremiah 31:34, the fulfillment of Torah would be that everyone practices it, from the least to the greatest. Paradoxically, there would be no need for teachers of Torah if these conditions were met. 

But we live in a time when teaching continues to be necessary because we are still not all that we're created to be (as God's image),  nor are we all we're called to be (as God's people).   So, in what way is our righteousness to go beyond the righteousness of the Pharisees?  The Pharisees were righteous in the sense of following what they determined or interpreted was correct, what you were supposed to do or stay away from, and what was and wasn't your responsibility. The righteousness to be exceeded was defined by the limits set forth by teachers and their tradition. 

Going back to Jer. 31, the Torah (covenant relationship) written on the heart could be that which precedes and exceeds the righteousness based on the legal tradition, opinion, and arguments of others.

Bad news for the control freak: the power of change in Jesus Christ- repentance- is not wholly under our control; its locus is our loss of control.  Otherwise, change would be easy.  Since this is about entering God's kingdom and reign and our surrender to it, our control does not fix our broken relationships. Our right relationship, or righteousness, to others, ourselves, and God starts with God's unbounded love and grace within. My world opens up and I can let go of trying to fix myself, others, and even God, with all my good intentions. 

This is how the late Indian Jesuit, Anthony De Mello approaches it in his wonderful book of spiritual exercises and guided prayers, Wellsprings"Now I begin the essential element to all change. Before I take a single step, it is vital that I hear Christ say these words to me: "As far as my love for you is concerned it does not matter whether you change or not, for my love for you is unconditional." 

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