But, Your Honor!

Jesus said to his disciples: If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” [Mt 5: 20]

Jesus goes on to describe how we, as his disciples are to settle our grievances with others without resort to courts. We are not to approach the holy while harboring anger toward another.

I always find this an amusing set of verses. Why? Because while America is widely considered one of the most religious of all nations, and certainly has its fair share of  biblical literalists, we are also the most litigious of all nations. We sue for everything!

And Jesus clearly says we shouldn’t. Yet we do. We sue for harms done, and those imagined. We sue for something called “pain and suffering” often defined as mental anguish however one measures such things. A wife may sue a mistress for “alienation of affections” or for all that she would lose in the future in terms of wages for the tortious death of her beloved. Charts are created to approximate how much he likely would have made over his lifetime, and she can claim she’s entitled to have the money he “might have made.”

We sue for not having a coffee container warm us that the contents might be hot. We sue in other words for service companies not being mindful of our own thoughtlessness.

Yet Jesus said we should not do this.

I have never read the above passage to mean that failing to be perfectly virtuous meant that one was denied “heaven” in the afterlife. I don’t think Jesus spent a lot of time talking or teaching about any afterlife at all. No, I think Jesus was talking about our life here and now.

He was saying we can never hope to live in knowing unity with God when we are filled with anger, hatred, jealousy, greed,  and all those things that cause us to file law suits. When we are in such states, we are by definition, locked in our ego selves, unable to connect with the “I” of Spirit.

That is where, I believe, the kingdom of heaven resides. It is within ourselves, accessible when we come to God with a right heart, in love, compassion, humility. That allows us to unlock the door of our true essence and rush into the arms of a waiting God.

When enveloped by all the negative emotions humanity is so prone to, we are forever trying a key in the lock that will not turn.

Our virtue must be deep. Jesus was willing to die to help us to see that. Can we be willing to at least try to follow him? Afterall, to gain a kingdom, giving up our petty emotional limitations seems a small thing doesn’t it?


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tim
    Mar 18, 2011 @ 12:47:33

    I don’t believe a litigious nation like ours should deign to call itself a Christian one by any means, Sherry. Love of money, more than legal redress, is the driver behind most lawsuits, as you point out. And as Paul says, it’s the root of all evil. That we’re not the least bit reluctant to drag our spouses, relatives, friends, neighbors, and anyone else who looks good for an unearned buck into court is an indictment of our lack of character.

    And when it comes to professing Christians, those who lack the clarity–and charity–to make right for their wrongs or forgive those who wrong them, well…

    It grieves me that so many in the Body of Christ seem to think they have “the right” to be angry, jealous, hateful, etc. As humans, yes; as believers, no. We pray and strive to eliminate these emotions and motives from our hearts because they defeat Christ’s purpose.

    You touch some very raw nerves here–and rightly so!



    • Sherry
      Mar 19, 2011 @ 12:19:32

      I recall you talking about watching the courtroom stuff on TV…and your conversation with Walt about it. I’m sure that it informed my decision to write about this. I wish people looked for reconciliation before running to a lawyer.


  2. Shannon
    Mar 20, 2011 @ 20:53:21

    Sherry, working in jail and prison, I regularly had to parse the passage about “bear no grievance” toward others. A grievance in prison is a tool to get a wrong corrected. It is the process that is in place and meant to be used.

    There were, on the other hand, those of a litigious nature who used and abused the system… some things just don’t change.



    • Sherry
      Mar 21, 2011 @ 14:07:16

      Yes Shannon, I expect things in jails and prisons are very different. My experience suggests that is so. It’s a whole culture unto itself and frankly, one can’t always afford to do as the bible seems to instruct. I expect frankly that Jesus wasn’t thinking of institutional wrongs. Sometimes the only way to address them is by lawsuit…they won’t respond to a single individual.


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