“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
This saying of Jesus flips expectations. To get a sense of this, think of other areas of exceptionalism: unless your power surpasses that of the President of the United States; unless your knowledge surpasses that of the MIT researchers; unless your talent surpasses that of the Renaissance painters; or unless your skill surpasses that of the NBA All-Stars. The scribes and the Pharisees dedicated their lives to righteousness. They were at the pinnacle of holiness. The average Jew, the hearers of Jesus’s words, had no hope of achieving greater righteousness. The conditions of their lives simply did not allow the opportunity, time, or study to fulfill all the requirements of righteousness. It was not possible. How can we do that? It is harder for a camel to get through the eye of a needle, so the saying goes.