For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
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Jesus speaks of righteousness here as virtue in its fullness. In speaking of Job, Jesus said, “He was a blameless man, righteous.” According to the same meaning of the word, Paul even called that person righteous for whom, as he said, no law is laid down: “For the law is not made for a righteous person.” One might find “righteous” in many other passages rendered as “virtuous in general.” But I urge you to observe how grace has abounded under the new covenant. Jesus desires to have his prospective disciples considered as greater than the teachers under the old covenant. For by “scribes and Pharisees” here he meant the upright, not the lawbreakers. If they were not acting in a commendable fashion, he would not have spoken of them as righteous. Nor would he have compared the unreal to the real. Note how Jesus also in this passage commends the old law. He does so by comparing it with the new, a comparison that implies that it is of the same family, so to speak. More or less, it does share many family resemblances. He does not find fault with the old law but in fact makes it more strict. Had it been evil, Jesus would not have accentuated it. Instead, he would have discarded it. If the law is so commendable, how is it not adequate to bring us into the kingdom? After the coming of Christ we are favored with a greater strength than law as such. Those who are adopted as children are bound to strive for greater things. The Gospel of Matthew, Homily