By Fr. Roy Cimagala
“UNLESS your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5,20) With these words, Christ is telling us how our righteousness should be. And that is that we have to have the righteousness that truly comes from God. It should not be like that of the scribes and Pharisees which is aptly described as self-righteousness, one that is based on one’s ideas of righteousness alone.
And what is the difference between the real righteousness and the wrong one? Christ described it this way: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.
“And whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.” (Mt 5,21-24)
The real righteousness that channels the very righteousness of God as shown and lived by Christ always has a refinement that goes beyond our human standards. It’s definitely a refinement that is first of all an effect of God’s grace. It’s something supernatural that purifies and elevates our natural sense of righteousness.
If we study closely the life and example of Christ, we can see that the righteousness he is showing us is one where there is some kind of preferential concern for those who are in error or are lost spiritually and morally. This Christian attitude can be adduced from the parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep. Christ fraternized more with the sinners, precisely because he came not to condemn the world but to save.
Fraternizing with sinners is what we all have to cultivate in ourselves also. We have to replicate Christ’s attitude towards sinners, who actually are all of us—of course, in varying degrees. We have to give special attention to the lost sheep and to the lost coin. We have to open all possible avenues to be in touch with all sinners.
This capacity to fraternize with sinners is first of all a gift from God which we have to take care of and develop. It’s meant to mature us and to involve us in the continuing work of redemption of Christ. It’s not meant, of course, to dilute the teachings of Christ and the very essence of goodness and true holiness.
We need to train ourselves in this department because we obviously have to contend with tremendous difficulties that we have to learn to surmount. We will always have our biases and preferences and other natural and human conditionings that, if not handled well, can be divisive elements in our life.
But if we closely follow Christ, if we pray and let ourselves be led by our faith more than by our feelings, we can manage to consider everyone worthy of our attention, concern and love. Even those who, from under different criteria and standards, we consider as sinners, enemies, unlovable, etc., can command our care, concern and love!