“Jot and Tittle”

Matthew 5:17-20

Since 2004 I’ve practiced yoga off and on with a video instructor. My first yogi blew my mind. “Let go of all sense of effort, and rest,” she said. That notion had never occurred to me. It was certainly not something I’d heard at school, church, or home. My current YouTube yogi has other challenging mantras. She says odd things like, “See feelingly”; “Don’t just make it look like the picture; find what feels good”; and “Move from a place of connect.” I sort of know what she means.

Jesus’ words in today’s passage can strike me in a similar way. Every word is understandable, but the whole doesn’t quite compute. Jesus identifies his mission as fulfilling every jot and tittle of the law (v. 18, KJV). He says that those who adjust the law will be the least in the kingdom whereas those who teach the unabridged law will be great (v. 19). Then he says that only those who are more righteous than the Pharisees will enter heaven (v. 20).

Wait, what? What’s the use in a new church leader if not to edit the bylaws, especially when they’re long and convoluted? If the Pharisees—who paid disciplined attention to every iota of the law—can’t get it right, who can?

When we ask that in Sunday school, we learn that although the Pharisees performed postures of righteousness, their hearts were far from right. They followed the law without fulfilling it. As a bag of words, I get it. As a way of being in the world, I can’t quite piece it

Sometimes when doing yoga, the posture is all I can manage. The same is true about being righteous. Sometimes I can do the right thing, even if my heart isn’t in it.

Blessed are those who go through the motions with their whole heart.


What kinds of righteous postures do you perform without a righteous heart?


Holy God, help us do more than take up righteous postures. Whatever that means. Amen.

This post originally appeared in Volume 28.2 of Reflections.

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