|inspired by Matthew 5:20-26|
I struggled with the best way to word this to convey Christ's meaning with clarity and brevity. You have to use words spairngly, after all, when they're being carved in stone. What Jesus actually said was "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
Usually when I read that passage I think it is a condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees. Given all the bad press they've gotten in sermons and commentary over the past 2000 years, it doesn't seem like Jesus set the bar very high. We have to consider though that the scribes and Pharisees were pillars of society in their time. They were models of propriety and pious behavior. They were counted holy by the culture in which they lived. And they were counted holy by themselves, which is why Jesus objected to their particular brand of self-righteousness, calling them at one point "whited sepulchers."
What Jesus is really telling us here is not that it's easy to exceed the righteousness of the self-proclaimed upright citizens of our time, but rather that it's not enough to merely observe all the laws and practices of our faith and stick to our moral precepts. If we wish to enter the kingdom of heaven, we need to go further, higher, longer, and deeper than that. We need to strive beyond the required and into the realm of the divine.
That's not easy. It's not supposed to be. If it were, scribes and Pharisees could do it. This is why we have Lent. Go for it. I'm praying for you.