Righteousness is a good theological term. The essence of it means that we are in right relationship with God. Sounds simple on the surface, doesn’t it? But what does that really mean?
A right relationship. What would a right relationship look like? Sound like? What would a right relationship look like in terms of time spent together? And what happens during that time together?
What does a right relationship look like in terms of language used? How about in attention paid to the other person that you have the right relationship with?
Over and over Jesus answers the question posed to him about the most important commandment. And his answer never fails – to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and spirit. And he throws in the second great commandment when he answers this question – To love your neighbor as your self. Jesus understood something about why these two commandments are stated together.
“Unfortunately, we have been guilty of equating righteousness with holiness, or spirituality, being in right relationship with God. We have never quite understood that in order to be in a right relationship with God, one must first be in a right relationship with his fellow man.”
(Source: Mishnah and the Words of Jesus, by Dr. Roy Blizzard, pg. 17)
Look past the gender-exclusive language and you see that Jesus understood and was advocating that to be in a right relationship with God meant that we were also in a right relationship with other humans. This is why the two commandments are so intimately linked.
Inversely, if we do not love others, then we are not fulfilling the first commandment. How could we? If we ignore or push away one of God’s creations, if we are willingly blind to the Imago Dei (The Image of God), of other humans, then how could we actually see God at all anywhere? We can’t.
This theological point underlies so much of Jesus ministry and his teachings. It shows up in all of Jesus parables. It shows up in his miracles. It shows up in how he acts towards those whose intent is to kill him. It shows up on the cross.
Righteousness isn’t just some heady theological term. It is lived out.