JESUS’ RIGHTEOUSNESS VERSUS “RELIGIOUS” RIGHTEOUSNESS
“Then Jesus spoke to the people: ‘What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing evil or doing good? Helping people or leaving them helpless?’ No one said a word.” Mark 3:4 (The Message).
As Jesus’ ministry progressed, the Pharisees dispute with Him over His attitude to the Sabbath was turning into a running battle. It was almost as though He was baiting them by purposely healing people on the Sabbath. The rift between His righteousness and theirs was becoming more clearly defined and was widening into a chasm.
The Pharisees defined “righteousness” was by what they did not do. If they did not “break the Sabbath” as they accused Jesus of doing, they regarded themselves as righteous. By contrast, Jesus was showing them God’s heart by using the Sabbath as an opportunity to help people who needed help. His attitude was: “What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?”
God is always filled with compassion for people who need help. Breaking His law is not doing what is right rather than doing what is wrong. A lot of the time we engage in sin in order to manage our emotional pain. We make foolish choices and end up in addictions because we can’t handle our problems. Jesus had more to say to the Pharisees who engaged in religious rituals to cover up their failure to be merciful than to people who engaged in sinful behaviour to cover up their emotional pain. He redefined sin by modelling mercy. Sin was, to Him, not doing what was right, i.e., helping those in need, rather than doing wrong. Really wicked behaviour was to ignore someone in need rather than to commit adultery, for example.
This speaks loudly to us because our most natural behaviour is to look inward and take care of our own needs and our own “reputation”. This is what the Hebrew people called the “yetzer harah – the evil eye" – the person who is so inward-looking that he is selfish and greedy and only looks after himself. The person who has an “eye of light – the yetzer tov” sees other people’s needs through God’s eyes. God’s measure is: what I do when I see another’s need and I have the power to meet it. That is the righteousness which is a response to Jesus’ righteousness given to us by faith. They are two inseparable sides of the same coin.
The difference between religion and the message of Jesus is this: religion demands; God gives. Religion says that we must do this and do that to gain the attention and the favour of the god we worship. God does not demand: He gave His only Son to pay the debt for our sin. God does not demand that we “do this or do that” in order to earn His favour.
He loved us before the beginning of time and did what was needed to remove the barrier between us and Him. He wants us to be His children so that He can bless us because He is generous. He does not punish us – He has already punished Jesus for us. He works in us, making us whole people again so that we can be with Him and be His sons and daughters forever.
The generosity we show others is a spontaneous response to God's generosity to us. Not to show mercy to those who need it is not to appreciate the great mercy God has shown us by removing our sin and reconciling Him with Himself as His sons and daughters.