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Lectionary 348: Righteousness = wholesomeness

February 27, 2017


Lectionary 348.  Scripture: Feb.28. Sirach 35:1-12. Psalm 50: 5-6,7-8, 14.23. Mark 10:28-31:

Recently a friend asked me what is the meaning of the word “righteousness” in the Bible?  This morning as I read Sirach, I realized he was describing what righteousness is in the context of the wisdom he possessed as an inspired writer. The content of the passage is what my own research on righteousness led me to this conclusion.  His description is clear and unified in the situations and examples he provides for the reader today.  I found the attributes and characteristics of righteousness presented in a coherent manner and was led to see something similar in the New Testament in Paul’s hymn of love.  Moffat, a biblical scholar, calls this hymn a portrait of Jesus.  I see it also as a portrait of the righteous ones.  (I Corinthians 13:4-8).  Together these two readings give us a good look at what it means to be righteous.

Above all it is good not to associate this biblical word with self-righteousness. It is this latter attitude that sometimes confuses us when we see the simple word righteousness in our readings.  Both Joseph and Mary were described as righteous persons in the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke.  These two persons should give us two living examples of persons who have what Paul and Sirach describe as righteousness.

From a scholarly point of view the word is predominant in the Old Testament and is used over 300 times.  The New Testament uses the word for righteousness (dikaios) for persons 79 times with Matthew leading with his 17 times of mentioning such persons while using dikaios to describe them.   In correlating it to the Old Testament it is the spirit of the covenant which is expressed in the words tsadiqah and mishpat as well as hesed and rachamim; all of which are used in the human dimension of the covenant Israel had with God. These words mean justice, good deeds, loving-kindness, and deep feelings of mercy.  All of these biblical words deal with our relationship to God and God to us. One friend of mine says covenant righteousness is best expressed as the equivalent of loving-kindness (hesed) with God and neighbor.

If you have the time and patience to read Psalm 119 to the end, you will have another portrait of righteousness illustrating the ways in which it is lived out daily. I like this Psalm and recently read a commentary on it to help me appreciate it more.  St. Paul’s hymn of love could be considered the New Testament’s way of putting Psalm 119 into practice in what is contained in its 176 verses.

In an excellent and contemporary Dictionary of Theological Interpretation, I appreciated the article on Justice by Vincent E.Barcoto.  In one of his statements he hits the core of righteousness which should help my friend to understand its significance: “An aim toward understanding biblical justice (dikaios) in such a way that one hears from God and honors God in practice requires a perspective that places humans beneath the divine.” (DTI, p.415).

Some of my other thoughts on the meaning of righteousness led me to see that humility, integrity, absolute truthfulness, and charity are ways of understanding it. In addition, Vatican II has a chapter on the call to universal holiness which would also be helpful for seeing it in a community and church dimension.  I believe by living in the presence of God while be guided by the Holy Spirit will help us to see that his term fits in well with the doctrine of the Communion of Saints. Amen.

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