“Unless your covenant behaviour is far superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.”
(Mt 5:20 NTW)
I love that phrase ‘covenant behaviour’; an alternative rendering of a word usually translated ‘righteousness’, which we often read (and typically ignore) as merely ‘religious jargon’.
But part of me feels less comfortable with the idea of describing certain behaviour as being ‘superior’. That sounds so non-pc in 21st century western culture. After all, who are we to ‘judge’ the behaviour of others? Isn’t that arrogant, intolerant, unloving, & non-inclusive? Unless of course the behaviour in question falls within a very narrow range of categories which our society (or at least the media) has for the present deemed truly unacceptable. And these may only classified as such for this week, this month, or this year, because such things seem fluid and opinions around what qualifies appear to change. And if we ever dare to utter any word that carries the implication of ‘sin’, we are likely to incur the wrath/mockery/offense of those we are called to love and serve.
Jesus seems to have had less scruples in calling-out such behaviour, and in doing so won some admirers and some enemies; admirers among those who especially liked his critique of the religious hypocrites, and enemies among those who knew themselves to be the subject of that critique.
Knowing the subtle deceptions of my own heart, it is best to focus the challenge of Jesus firstly onto myself, rather than too quickly deflecting it onto others. #SpecsInOurEyes. It is my covenant behaviour that is the first priority. It is my conduct that needs to reflect distinctively Kingdom values; my attitudes that must reveal my different citizenship, within a society that struggles to achieve real consensus about right and wrong.
But more than this. Somehow, we need to do this, to be this, together. For we are called to model God’s alternative, age-to-come community in the middle of our increasingly broken, age-that-is-passing society. And here our behaviour matters critically. People around may not immediately discern our attitudes (though our Father does) and they may ignore our words. But what they will always see are our actions, our habits, and our behaviour.
Somehow, in a candidly humble way, we need to hold-each-other-to-account, so that – in terms of our covenant behaviour – we retain a distinctively ‘salty’ taste, without which Jesus says we are essentially pointless (Mt 5:13). Like it or not, we are a city-on-a-hill, whose counter-cultural actions people cannot fail to notice.
Spirit… Holy Spirit; form, reform & transform us. And especially me.