When Christ said, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven,” (Mt 5,20) we have to understand that Christian life will involve the task of going beyond what simply is material and natural in our life. That’s because our life is meant to be spiritual and supernatural, since it is supposed to be a life of sharing with God’s life and nature.
In this regard, we have to see to it that our dealings with one another, and most especially with God himself, are not guided simply by human and natural standards. This Christ clarified when he said:
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill’; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” (Mt 5,21-22)
This Christian duty, of course, will obviously require tremendous effort, given the way we are—always prone to think that we can only be guided by our own natural and human ways rather than by God’s ways. But even before thinking of the need for this tremendous effort, we have to realize, first of all, that with humility we need to ask for God’s grace. Only with his grace can we aspire to carry out this duty.
To be able to carry out this duty we always need to have in our mind and heart the example of Christ, and to feel his great love for all of us, irrespective of how we are. Let’s remember that he asked us to love even our enemies, and he lived by this standard when even on the cross, he offered forgiveness to those who crucified him.
It’s when we keenly feel this love of God for us that we can manage to love God and others the way Christ loved us, going beyond merely natural and human values. To be sure, loving God and others the way Christ loved and continues to love us, does not in any way go against our nature. It simply goes beyond it, purifying it and elevating it to the supernatural order, so we can share the very life and nature of God as we are meant to be.
In this regard, a certain 4th century Greek bishop by the name of Diadochus had something relevant to say:
“The measure of a man’s love for God depends upon how deeply aware he is of God’s love for him. When this awareness is keen, it makes whoever possesses it to long to be enlightened by the divine light, and this longing is so intense that it seems to penetrate his very bones. He loses all consciousness of himself and is entirely transformed by the love of God.”
And he added even something very interesting that describes how going beyond our natural self to reach the supernatural life of God is:
“Such a man lives in this life and at the same time does not live in it, for although he still inhabits his body, he is constantly leaving it in spirit because of the love that draws him toward God. Once the love of God has released him from self-love, the flame of divine love never ceases to burn in his heart and he remains united to God by an irresistible longing.”*