On Righteousness

Thursday of 10th Week of Ordinary Time

1 Kgs 18:41-46; Mt 5: 20-26

By Deacon Larry Brockman


Righteousness!  Does your righteousness surpass that of the Scribes and Pharisees?  What is righteousness, anyway, because unless we know what righteousness means, we are liable to miss the whole point of the Gospel?   


In our society, we usually think of righteousness as meaning “uprightness”   In the sense of “adherence to or conformity to an established norm.”  But that isn’t what it meant in Jesus time and in Jewish culture.  According to the Hollman Bible Dictionary, righteousness is “the fulfillment of the terms of a covenant between God and humanity or between humans in the full range of human relationships”.   


Now this is fascinating because the whole emphasis of a Pharisee was strict compliance with the Mosaic Law.  And yet Jesus is telling the people that they must be more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees.  And so, is there any hope for us?  Most of us do not devote our lives to the study of the scriptures and strict compliance to the laws of God as the scribes and Pharisees did.  How can we be more righteous than that?   


In the First reading, we hear a story about Elijah and King Ahab.  This incident happened just after Ahab had done away with the prophets of the false God Baal, and had accepted the Lord back into his life.  Ahab had begun to reform- and not only that, after a long draught, he climbs the mountain as Elijah bids him and celebrates his conversion with food and drink, trusting in the word of the Prophet Elijah, because Elijah told him his worries were over.  The great draught would end with bountiful rain.  Against all odds, Elijah prays on the mountain for rain; prays over a dry, parched land with a clear blue sky; and commissions his servant to keep watch for the rain that he is sure will come. 


Why did God answer Elijah’s prayer?  Because Elijah was a righteous man.  Elijah believed; Elijah trusted; and Elijah acted in the name of and on behalf of the Lord- always.  Elijah had even patched things up with his enemy Ahab who had been after him relentlessly.  Elijah kept his part of the Jewish Covenant with the Lord, and that’s what righteousness means.   


Sometimes life throws us serious curves and difficulties.  And we pray, and we pray, and we pray.  But do we have righteousness in our hearts.  It is not so much a matter of keeping the commandments, although that helps.  It is more a matter of always believing in God; always trusting in God; and always acting on God’s behalf- that is, doing His will for us.  It is a covenant relationship that we have with God; and it is a covenant that involves our hearts, not just our minds as it was with the Pharisees. 


Notice that Jesus talks about settling with our brothers before we come to the altar.  That’s the other part of righteousness in the definition- being in a right relationship in our dealings with others.  And so when we are in a right relationship with God and our neighbor., then when we pray, we will be praying with a sense of righteousness.  And like Elijah, we can be confident of great things from the Lord. 


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