The righteousness of the Christian must surpass that of even the strict observance of the Jewish Law. The word ‘righteousness’ is a difficult one; it is hardly a current English word, except in the unpleasant concept of ‘self-righteous’. In the scripture it translates the Greek dikaiosune, which has two connected meanings, both involving a sense of rightness or justice. It is used firstly of God, who is righteous, true, in the sense that God observes his promises, can be utterly relied on. As for human beings, they too can be ‘righteous’ by committing themselves to God’s ‘righteousness’ through faith in him. So Abraham was made ‘righteous’ by faith – this is the basis of Paul’s Letter to the Romans – he was ‘put right’ with God. A sign of this ‘righteousness’ is loving obedience to the Law given by God through Moses, a response in love to a gift in love. This is the second meaning of righteousness or dikaiosune.
In accordance with this, Jesus now gives six ways in which true righteousness goes beyond that of the Old Testament (consequently of the Pharisees and scribes). They do not consist in the slavish observance of every commandment but go beyond it, each in a different way. The first and last of these contrasts are about love and the practice of love. So the whole teaching is about the fullness of love to God and the neighbour. The first contrast is about the opposite of love, namely enmity. It is questionable whether the injurious name-calling ‘raqa’ and ‘moron’ is meant as a gradation or is merely a doubled assertion expressed in the two languages. In either case enmity to a brother or sister creates such a painful wound in the Body of Christ that it rules out sacrifice and prayer. We must leave our sacrifice at the altar and go and be reconciled with our brother or sister. This is the importance of the exchange of greetings at the Sign of Peace in the Eucharist. The Peace filters down, hand to hand, from Christ at the altar to the whole congregation and those beyond.
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