As a teacher, I always try very hard to simplify things. Over my first cup of coffee this morning I wanted to see if I could simplify Jesus’ teachings by jotting them down briefly on a sheet of paper. I thought the Gospel of Matthew was a good place to start since Jesus did a lot of teaching from a mountainside.
He starts out with what we call the Beatitudes (5:1-11), or the “Blessed are” statements. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” That’s a tough one to live up to. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Then he says in 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law of the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” He says that if we break “any” of the old Jewish commandments or causes others to break one, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But, here’s the shocker. “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:21 starts out with what I call the “But I say to you…” statements. For instance, “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” And adultery was forbidden by Jesus.
Jesus sums it up in Matthew 7:14 “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Amen to that. Very few I would say.
To enter the kingdom heaven, according to Jesus, is a very difficult thing to do. But wait a minute. Paul saw a vision on his way to Damascus. The bright light that blinds him on that road turns out to be Jesus. Paul, a Jewish Pharisee, immediately converts from an executor of Christians to a faithful follower of Jesus. He dedicates his life in the teachings of Jesus. Most Christians will say that he started the Christian movement.
Now, the hard part for me to understand is that Paul appears to “simplify” the teachings of Jesus. He claims that all you have to do is believe in Christ and that he was risen – no works necessary. Matthew’s Jesus was all about works – how you conduct yourself and how you treat others. It appears that Paul’s teachings were at odds with what Jesus taught on the mountainside. Did Jesus, aka God, change his mind about what he taught earlier?
Oh well. Another mystery goes unsolved – at least in my mind. So, I’ll just have another cup of coffee.