Right or Righteousness?
The claim of the personal “right” of an individual has dominated the news in recent months. Throughout the pandemic, many have claimed that they had the “right” to not wear a mask, not get a vaccine, and not to social distance. Some churches even went to the courts to claim their “right” to hold worship in person while the death rate of Covid was in thousands per day. More than 60% of all Covid transmissions have been attributed to religious gatherings in Korea. They claim that they had “right” to do with their body as they wish, for it is their body. They made these claims even though they knew that their claim to their “right” put other people’s lives at risk. They were claiming their personal “right” while rattling off the names of their friends and family who died of the Covid virus.
As the Supreme Court is now preparing to hear the Mississippi case on abortion limitations, it is rather ironic that those same individuals now claim that women do not have any “right” to protect their body or their future. Those who oppose women’s “right” over their bodies have put into law that women cannot have any “right” over their bodies. They now claim that the government has the “right” over the bodies of women and not women themselves. Let’s state the truth. The religious conservatives claim that they have the “right” over their own bodies, but the women who are not a part of their group do not have the same “right” over their bodies. The hypocrisy is not lost on anyone.
The same people hold these two contradicting positions. Through theological gymnastics, the hypocrites claim to be “right.” While they claim that their faith is based on the Bible, it is abundantly clear that they do not know the God of the Bible at all. The God of the Bible seeks “righteousness” and does not claim any “rights.” The prophet Jeremiah states that the name of God is “righteousness,” and God will bring justice and righteousness to the world.
We can see in the scripture where Jesus condemns those claiming to be “right” but lauds those acting in “righteousness.” In the Parable of a Servant, a servant is brought before his master because he owed a lot of money but was unable to pay. The master, who had the “right” to put the servant into the debtor’s prison until his family came up with the money that is owed, does not claim his “right,” but the “righteous” master forgives the man of his debt and sets him free. However, upon his release, the servant went to a man who owed him a little money and claimed his “right,” and demanded repayment. When the man could not, the servant claimed his “right” and threw the man into the prison, demanding his money from the man’s family. Usually, either the family sold everything they had. If they did not have the money, then they sold themselves into slavery, or the wife and daughters had to be sold into prostitution to raise the money.
When the master heard what the servant had done, the master became angry. When the master had acted in “righteousness” and did not force the servant’s family to be sold into slavery, the servant claimed his “right” and forced the man’s family to be sold into slavery. When the master heard what the servant had done, he rescinds his act of “righteousness” and claims his “right,” and throws the man into the prison, demanding every cent to be paid as the servant had done to the man.
The kindness of “righteousness” was met with the vengeance of the “right.” In the same way, we are to remember that God demonstrated “righteousness” with us and showed us mercy and kindness. We, too, are to show the same generosity of “righteousness” and not claim the “right” to vengeance and violence. At every worship service, we say the Prayer Jesus Taught Us or, as some would say, “The Lord’s Prayer,” and we are reminded each time we say it, the phrase “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” or “forgive our trespasses as we forgive those trespass against us.”
We are asking God only to forgive us in the same manner we forgive others. We ask God to hold us accountable to act in “righteousness.” The biblical theology teaches us that we are forgiven only to the degree of “righteousness” we have acted towards others. As I hear the vitriol of the anti-vaxxers or anti-abortionists, I am left asking, “Where is your righteousness?” I wonder if they know that their behavior shows that they have not been forgiven of any sins. Since they have not forgiven others, we also know that they have not been forgiven. Their theology condemns them to “hell” as unrepentant sinners.
Christmas is a season we celebrate the coming of Jesus, the one who gave up his “right” and became God’s “righteousness” on our behalf. He gave up his “right” to heaven, and as is in a hymn, “emptied himself of all but love” to be the “righteousness” of God on the cross. While he had the “right” to the claim of the throne of heaven, his “righteousness” was revealed in a humble manger in a little town in an unknown back-water country with no significance. Giving up the “right” to be among the powerful, he celebrated his “righteousness” among the poor, powerless, and aliens. Let us celebrate the “righteousness” of God as we remember the love, mercy, and grace of God this Christmas season. Let us give up our “right” and seek the “righteousness” of God.