Righteousness is a very strong theme in Matthew’s Gospel. The word comes up many times more often than in the other three Gospels, in all translations. At the beginning of each Gospel, the words Jesus first speaks encapsulate the emphasized theme of that evangelist. In Matthew’s Gospel the first words Jesus speaks are: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” In the teaching of Jesus, a strong distinction is made between the integrity of true righteousness and the hypocrisy of self-righteousness: “Be careful not to practise your ‘righteousness’ in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1; see also Matthew 23:28).
Jesus draws a contrast between religious correctness – adhering to all the rules – and purity of heart, which shows itself in compassion towards our fellow human beings and in implicit trust in God.
How do you feel about the word “righteousness”? Does the idea of a “righteous person” attract you, or does it feel intimidating?
Would you describe your own life as “righteous”? In what ways do you think it might be, and in what ways do you think it might be hypocritical or short of the mark?
The scribes and Pharisees, devout religious folk, come in for a lot of stick from Jesus! Which of our own faith traditions do you think draw us closer to God – and are there any that might actually be getting in the way?
“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”* O Lord God, we claim that Scripture for the cleansing and transformation of our own lives – for it is not we who are the righteous, but Jesus, who intercedes for us. Where we have been self-righteous and hypocritical, in your mercy forgive us. Show us the way of true integrity, trust, and humility, so that we may live and walk as Jesus meant us to do, in the ways of kindness, justice, and peace. For we ask it in his holy name; Amen. *(James 5:16)