I have a gambling problem. I am bad at it. A few friends and I used to play card games growing up. My favorite was Rummoli and I generally tried to avoid Poker. One memorable evening of Penny Poker left me $10 poorer. And the ante was only 10 cents. No one had to raise the ante, or work hard to push my betting higher. I was just bad at it.
Jesus rounds out the fifth chapter of Matthew by upping the ante on righteousness. Adultery becomes sinful when it begins in your heart or mind. Divorce becomes adultery when the sacredness of marriage is too easily tossed aside. Lying is lying no matter how you couch it. Kindness in place of revenge, love in place of hate. Truly, this is a higher righteousness than the Pharisees taught. And in case there was any doubt, He summarizes it this way:
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
This another one of those (open) secret keys to unlocking Scripture; the paradox, the impossibility of this kind of obedience points to some other kind of righteousness, one we can only accept but not earn. We are bad at righteousness and more than our pennies are at risk.
Verse 28 tells me I need a new heart. Verse 32, that I need a entirely new concept of marriage. Verse 37, that I need to bridle my speech in a manner altogether foreign to me. Verse 39, that I need to entirely overhaul my emotional life. I need to be an entirely new person.
Good news: “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
1 Corinthians 5:17
This is not a long checklist of tasks for self-improvement, it is rather mounting proof that I need to re-made all over, born again if you will. It is not an unbearable weight slung on your shoulders; it is an invitation to experience the life of another.
Let me leave you with the benediction so common on cards for the sick and hurting:
Get better soon.