6th Sunday after Trinity + Matthew 5:20-26 + July 30, 2017
Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
THE LORD || is the strength of His | peo- | ple *
He is the saving Refuge of | His | a- | noint- | ed.
|| Save Your people, and bless Your in- | her-i- ∙ | tance; *
Shepherd them also, and bear them | up | for- | ev- | er. (Psalm 28:8 paraphrase, 9)
|| To You I will cry, O Lord my Rock; do not be silent to | me, | - *
Lest, if You are silent to me, I become like those who go | down | to | the | pit.
|| Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to | You, | - *
When I lift up my hands toward Your holy | sanc- | tu- | ar- | y.
|| The Lord is my strength and my | shield; | - *
My heart trusted in Him, | and | I | am | helped. (Psalm 28:1, 2, 7a)
|| The Lord is the strength of His | peo- | ple *
He is the saving Refuge of | His | a- | noint- | ed.
|| Save Your people, and bless Your in- | her-i- ∙ | tance; *Shepherd them also, and bear them | up | for- | ev- | er. (Psalm 28:8 paraphrase, 9)
Collect for the 6th Sunday after Trinity
Lord of All Power and Might, Who art the Author and Giver of all good things, graft in our hearts the love of Thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of Thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
1) Jesus says you need a better righteousness than what the Scribes and Pharisees had. Their righteousness was purely external. They thought that God was pleased in they followed God’s law on the outside. When they came to the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder,” they thought that since they had not shed a man’s blood, they were righteous according to that commandment. The Fifth Commandment seems to be one of the easier ones to follow, which is why Jesus uses it as His example. Jesus teaches that the commandment is not just about what we do with our hands though. God created all of man, his hands, his mouth, and his mind, so God’s Law applies to man’s hands, his mouth, and his mind. “You shall not murder” is easily applied to the hand. Don’t end your neighbor’s life. But Jesus wants a righteousness that is better than the external righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. He expands the Fifth Commandment to the mind and the mouth. “You shall not murder” when applied to the mouth, means simply, “Don’t say hateful things to your neighbor.” Applied to the mind it means, “Don’t even think contemptuous thoughts about your neighbor or wish him harm in any way.” Actual, physical murder, after all, is not just a matter of the hands. It starts in the mind and eventually works itself out through the hands. The Pharisees think they are righteous according to this commandment simply if they have kept themselves from murdering their neighbor. But Jesus says this righteousness, which is merely external, won’t do at all.
2) He says to them, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” The commandment isn’t just an external thing. It’s chiefly an internal thing, a matter of how the heart is disposed toward one’s neighbor. You don’t have to physically murder someone to violate the Fifth Commandment. Anger is the soil from which the plant of murder grows, so that being angry without a cause puts one the same danger as if you have murdered someone. Just as a manslayer must go before the judge, so must the person who is angry with his brother without a cause. That’s how the commandment penetrates the mind. Jesus then shows how it penetrates the lips. He says, “And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire.” Angry and hateful thoughts easily erupt from our lips so that we speak harshly with our neighbor and call him all sorts of nasty things. Again, the commandment speaks to the whole man, so that “You shall not murder” applies to the lips as well. Just as the one who spoke “Raca” to his brother is in danger of the council, so the one who speaks contemptuously against his brother has earned the fire of Hell for himself.
3) Jesus is not introducing a new Law here, “for the law was given through Moses” (John 1:17). Jesus is simply reiterating the Word of God in Leviticus 19:17-18. There the Lawgiver had said, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” Jesus teaches the Law in all its severity so that it may show the scribes and the Pharisees what their external righteousness really is: hypocrisy. They may not murder, but they harbor hatred in their hearts and launch angry words at their brothers, which is just as bad as manslaughter. Jesus shows them their hypocrisy in the second half of today’s Gospel reading. “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” The scribes and Pharisees thought they could offend their brother and hold hateful thoughts in their hearts then go directly go to offer their thank offerings at the altar of the Temple. Their external righteousness allowed to harbor anger, hatred, and contempt for their neighbor as they stood in the Temple thanking God for His abundant mercies. True righteousness would instead seek to be reconciled with one’s brother whom you have offended, or who has offended you, and agree with one’s adversary quickly lest he take to the judge and risk being thrown into prison for your offense.
4) When Jesus says, “For unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven,” He condemns the external and hypocritical righteousness of those men. It’s a much farther reaching condemnation than that though. With these words Christ condemns all attempts at righteousness which are purely external and therefore hypocritical. Jesus wants true righteousness which is a righteousness of the heart. That’s something that no man, woman, or child, can do. The prophet Isaiah says, “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). There is no one who is truly righteous before God, according to the Fifth Commandment let alone any of the commandments. We do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things at all times. We do not love our neighbor as we love ourselves at all times, if at all. Even our most pious looking deeds are still tainted with sin because we are, as Isaiah said, “an unclean thing.” Job asks, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” His answer? “No one!” (Job 14:4). We cannot produce the righteousness which exceeds the scribes and the Pharisees because we are the scribe and the Pharisees, able to produce an external righteousness but unable to truly fear, love, and trust in God or love our neighbors as we love ourselves. By all our attempts at righteousness, we will, as Jesus says, “by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
5) Jesus teaches us the Law so that we despair our own righteousness and look to Him for the righteousness that is better than the one of the scribes and the Pharisees. There is no righteousness to be had by the Law, for St. Paul writes: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’” But the Law, the books of Moses, also show us the promise of the righteousness which Christ offers. St. Paul writes in Romans 3:21-22, “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.” The perfect righteousness which is required for entry into the kingdom of heaven is not obtained through the Law, for the Law only shows us our individual sins and our sinful nature. True righteousness is only obtained by faith in Christ. When we believe the Gospel that our sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ’s perfect life and death upon the cross, not only does God the Father forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, but He also gives us the righteousness of Jesus, that is, everything He merited through His perfect life lived on our behalf. Christ’s righteousness, which is perfect because He is God in human flesh, “shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4:24.
6) The righteousness of Christ, which we have through faith in the Gospel, is called “the righteousness of faith.” This is the righteousness that avails before God. The prophet Habakkuk (2:4) says, “The righteous shall live by his faith.” When God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us by faith, he forgives all our many sins and thereby makes us into new men. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” The new man has a new heart that is directed by God the Holy Ghost. The new man “should walk in newness of life” as St. Paul says in this Sunday’s epistle reading. Being united with Christ in Holy Baptism, and there having our sins forgiven and righteousness bestowed upon us, Paul tells us to “reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:11). This means that being declared righteous by faith, being clothed with Christ’s righteousness, we strive against sin in our hands, in our minds, and in our lips. The New Man, who is righteous before God with Christ’s merits and righteousness, begins to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. The New Man, who is righteous by faith, begins to love his neighbor as he loves himself, not just externally but internally as well, so that he quiets his anger when it rises in him and keeps his mouth in check, remembering the great mercy he has received. Even our incomplete fulfilling of the law is pleasing to God, not in and of itself, but because it is done by one who is righteous by faith, who believes God’s promise of mercy and forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake.
7) The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is the righteousness of mankind apart from faith in Christ. Man cannot do righteous things because apart from faith in Christ he is not righteous. A bad tree cannot bear good fruit. So God declares us righteous when we believe the Gospel so that we, as the New Man, begin to live in righteousness. Through the Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners God declares bad trees, bearing bad fruit, to be good trees which now begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit. The righteousness of faith is what avails for entrance into the kingdom of heaven because it is a far better righteousness that that of the scribes and Pharisees. It is Christ’s own righteousness freely given to us without any merit or worthiness on our part. That is why it avails before God, for it is His own righteousness. Amen.
May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.