Righteousness is not a word we like to use very often, is it? Most of the time we associate it with self-righteousness, which is not an attractive quality. But righteousness is actually what God wants for us, and what we are seeking in part as we learn to follow Jesus.
We seek to live, to know, to be known.
We seek to be:
good, righteous, liked, resourceful, useful, obedient.
And yet: our light shines but dimly,
our [salty] seasoning is faulty,
our hopes are dashed
and instead of being up on that pedestal for all to see
we hide away:
afraid of what other might say, afraid of their judgement.
When we think of being “more righteous than the Pharisees” we think, “What? That’s impossible!” That’s what Jesus’ hearers would have thought at that time, too. The Pharisees were so intent on obeying God’s law that they added more laws to the long list handed down from the time of Moses – just to make sure they didn’t accidentally transgress against the original Law of God. There were so many requirements that the average person just couldn’t manage to keep every religious rule, no matter how hard they tried.
I think we have some of the same reaction when we hear the word “righteous”. We think it means perfect behaviour; we hear the lists of “you should” and “you shouldn’ts” ringing in our ears, maybe going all the way back to our childhood. I think a lot of us have a nagging voice inside our heads that isn’t a helpful conscience, but instead is like an old record player, scratchy and distorted, that gets stuck on one groove, telling us over again that we’re not doing it right, we’re making the wrong choice, and we’re just not good enough. The judge inside our heads is worse, for some of us, than any external judgement others could make. So the word “righteous” makes us cringe. But
There is only one judge,
there is only one law:
and love again.
Love who came and showed us a loving way.
Love who sought us out.
Love who teaches us there is only one way.
Living in love is living in righteousness.
Living in love is living in hope.
Living in love is truly living.
Let that light of love shine for all to see.
Think about how different these Beatitudes of Jesus are from some of what is being passed off as “Christian teaching” today. According to the Scripture passed down to us, Jesus didn’t say anything about controlling women’s bodies or reproduction; Jesus didn’t say anything about excluding people from his kingdom or his church; Jesus didn’t say anything about separating nations or sanctifying one race over another or denying basic rights to any segment of humanity or destroying those who do not believe as we believe; Jesus said nothing about giving benefits to the rich and clawing back benefits to the poor – in fact, he said just the opposite! Christianity is not about control, it’s about vulnerability. It is not about power over people, but about empowering people. It is not about greed, but generosity. It is not about hate or condemnation, but about acceptance and love. Where there must be judgement, that judgement is left to God, not to us, and we know that when God judges, that judgement is tempered by mercy.
What does a loving Christian life look like? Surprise! It’s a happy life, not an overburdened one! The word translated “blessed” in many Scripture translations can also be interpreted as “happy”. “Happy are you!” says Jesus, “when you live in my way, when you walk in my path.” Your life will be full of blessing, even if the world may not see it that way.
When life makes you feel unworthy, [says Jesus]
the blessings of heaven will be yours.
When your heart is breaking,
the blessings of comfort are yours.
When your fears hold you back,
the blessing will be richly won.
When the world ignores and betrays you,
blessings come from unknown sources.
When your heart is moved to mercy,
the blessing is returned.
When your heart is pure and innocent,
the blessing is knowing God.
When you are moved to see the best,
sow seeds of peace and seek better ways,
others will bless your heart.
When others take advantage and see you as weak,
God’s place for you is undisputed
And when people of faith are cursed and mistreated,
and others speak out against them,
be blessed and joyful,
your troubles are shared by the company of heaven
Just like “righteousness”, “blessing” doesn’t mean the same thing to Jesus as what we generally think, despite a lot of preachers who will try to convince you otherwise. Blessing isn’t a new car or a successful year in business or a trip to Mexico or even a perfect family (if such a thing could ever exist). Blessing is knowing and being known by God, being wrapped around in divine love and care, no matter what is happening in our lives. Blessing is standing up for Jesus and wand he taught, regardless of what people around you are saying. Blessing is living out his love, sharing it with the people around us – like lamps on a lampstand, a city on a hill, or salt that flavours everything it encounters. That’s righteousness; that’s happiness; that’s blessedness, according to Jesus. It occurred to me that perhaps it’s an unintentional gift to us that we call them the Beatitudes – it reminds us that blessing – beatus – is as much an attitude as it is anything else!
Your homework, then, this week, is to count your blessings – not material gifts or family well-being – though it is good to be grateful for those things. This week, I invite you to count those other blessings Jesus named – to mark how you are living the life of a member of God’s kin-dom. I’d like you to make note of those moments when those beatitudes apply to you, or when you see them becoming real in the people around them. You don’t need to count them numerically – just pay attention to them, and see how God is working in the lives that intersect with yours. May you see Christ’s spirit alive in the world, and know yourself to be blessed. Amen.