Summary: A message on the utter inadequecy of a righteousness that only goes skin-deep.
“Having a Heart Condition”
July 7, 2002
The Rev’d Quintin Morrow
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
Fort Worth, Texas
In 1506 Leonardo Da Vinci painted perhaps the most valuable, famous, and easily-recognizable portrait in the world on a piece of pine wood: The Mona Lisa. Da Vinci’s brush strokes, the beauty of his subject’s face, and of course her enigmatic smile have all caused the Mona Lisa to be the most admired painting in the history of art. Scholars have speculated for centuries about the identity of Da Vinci’s subject. It seems the artist kept detailed records of his model sittings during his lifetime, nevertheless he never mentions a model posing for the Mona Lisa. Who was this unknown person?
In 1992, Dr. Lillian Schwartz, a pioneer of computer graphics at AT&T’s Bell Labs, began using burgeoning computer technology to answer the riddle of the identity of the subject of the Mona Lisa. Schwartz digitalized a self-portrait if Da Vinci and the face of the Mona Lisa. Next, she flipped the self-portrait of Da Vinci and merged the two images together using a computer. The results were shocking. Schwartz noticed immediately that the facial features of both subjects aligned perfectly. She theorized in her subsequent 1992 book The Computer Artist’s Handbook that in fact the Mona Lisa is in fact a self-portrait of Da Vinci himself.
Whether Schwartz’s conclusion is true or not will probably never be confirmed, but the point is nonetheless a valuable one: It is possible to become so familiar with something that we either overlook or fail to discover its true meaning.
Consider our Gospel reading for today from Matt. 5:20-26. A cursory perusal would seem to indicate that our Lord Jesus enjoins anger and warns us that it is the first step toward murder. And that is true. Jesus does says that. But that isn’t all He says. He says, much, much more. For, not only does the Lord reveal the dangers of anger, but He also yanks the carpet out from under everyone who foolishly believes that their sporadic outward conformity to God’s law is sufficient to make them right with God.
The context for our passage, of course, is the familiar Sermon on the Mount. It begins in Matt. 5:1 with:
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he was sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
And it concludes in Matt. 7 with:
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
The Sermon on the Mount is the longest uninterrupted teaching we have from the lips of our Savior in all the Gospels. In this sermon Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer; He warns us about worry, pridefully judging others, and practicing our piety publically in order to be seen by others; He reveals that marriage is sacred, that His followers will be known by their manner of life and doctrine, and that we should “go the extra mile” for others.
But the immediate interpretive context for our text this morning is found in the three verses immediately preceding ours—verses 17, 18, & 19. There Jesus says:
17 v“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, wtill heaven and earth pass away, one 2jot or one 3tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 xWhoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
And then follows the revelatory cold shower from the lips of the Son of God—verse 20, the first verse of our text:
20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds ythe righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
For the sake of time this morning, let me tell you right now what Jesus is on about in this portion of the Sermon on the Mount. Primarily, the Lord is revealing that the righteousness which pleases God is not merely an outward conformity to the stipulations of the Law, but involves rather a perfect obedience that springs from a renewed heart. And then, secondarily, He warns us about the dangers of anger, and how it is tantamount in God’s eyes to murder, the dangers of adultery, and how lusting in the heart is tantamount to the adulterous act in God’s eyes, and etc, etc, through the remainder of chapter 5. In other words, Jesus is raising the bar of what is acceptable obedience according to God’s reckoning and reveals that God judges not just our outward perfor-mance but our inward motivation and thoughts as well. And anger/murder, and lust/adultery are simply examples of that point.