Righteous could be defined as the state of being right – that is, doing right by the rules, the laws, and thus declaring one’s self as being morally sound. In that case, I’m mostly righteous. Okay, I break a rule every now and then, but I’m mostly righteous. I don’t just go to church weekly, I’m there almost every day. (Okay, that’s probably not fair because I work for a church, but it’s true.) I read my bible. I worship. I give. I pray. Sure, all those things may be expected of me because I”m a pastor, but still, if that’s what it takes, then I’m righteous. I’m good, right? Most of us like to think of ourselves as generally good, mostly righteous folks, and then Jesus tells this convicting parable in Luke 18:
The righteous and the Unrighteous
9 Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: 10 “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ 13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.” – Luke 18: 9-14 (CEB)
About the time I think I have this following Jesus, Christian faith thing down, this parable pops up – reminding me that I’m not righteous, no matter how much good I do. I’m only right in God’s eyes because of Jesus, because of God’s mercy. Anything else leads me to believe I can claim my place of privilege because I deserve it. I worked hard for it, or my ancestors worked hard for it, and so I deserve it. I’ve earned it, right?
Or not. It all gets to the depth of my soul. What’s my motivation? What’s my why? Do I want to do right and be right to be righteous? Or, does God’s love, forgiveness, mercy and grace, make me right already (so I can’t claim it on my own) and inspire me to go and do the same – to give love, grant forgiveness, show mercy, and share grace with a world that so desperately needs it.
Prayer: Lord, I confess my self-righteousness and seek your mercy. Lead me to forgive others as I have been forgiven, and to love others as you have loved me, totally and unconditionally. Amen.