SEEKING TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in His sight by deeds prescribed by Law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been disclosed and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
“Yet whatever gains I had these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith…” (cf. Philippians 3: 7-9).Paul sees all that he had attained before encountering Christ as a liability. Paul says that they are a liability because of his encounter with Christ who has made it possible.
St. Paul in his bid to defend the faith of his ancestors or Orthodoxy of his faith was blinded of the human situation. He was so convinced about his faith that he will kill to preserve the faith of his ancestors and will not feel remorse about it. It was only after he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus that he now felt that obedient to the laws alone was not enough. Better still, it blinds but faith in Jesus alone was the surest way to righteousness. Hence his statement in Philippians 3:7-14.
Seeking true righteousness will take away our boast, our pride, and our envy because we come to discover that we are what we are because of the grace of God. Seeking true righteousness does not mean that we throw away the law (cf Roman 3:3). In fact, it enables us to uphold the law. It aids us to give a “human face” to the law because no one is righteousness before God. We can talk about Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Mary, to mention but few.
Furthermore, seeking true righteousness means that we must allow ourselves to be disillusioned about our false conception of who God is. Anyone who thinks that by paying tithes, praying always, and fasting, obeying Church laws to the letter is a righteous person is living in a world of illusion and this false righteousness must be disillusioned. True righteousness comes through faith in Jesus alone though the above obligations are a part. They are not ends in themselves but a means to an end. “He who comes to Him must believe that He exists and He rewards all who diligently seek him” (Hebrew 11:6). The parable of the Merciful Father (Luke 15:11- 32) is my point of departure. The parable of the Merciful Father is a practical example of seeking true righteousness. Specifically the attitude of the Elder brother leaves much to be desired. His righteousness is self- imposed. He thought that by just obeying his father to the letter was to bring him the joy of the Kingdom.
“Then he became angry and refused to go in… v. 28.
Why did he become angry? Two things come to mind namely: he became envious of his younger brother and that he had been working hard for his father and he deserve what perhaps his younger brother is enjoying and even better. Like him you will also be angry too were you to find yourself in that situation. Some of us have been baptized as infants in the Church and have spent all our lives working for the growth of the Church namely paying Church dues and Tithes, cleaning the Church, to mention but few. But when our friends whom perhaps we began life with backslides and he or she comes back and he or she is given attention we are worried and instead of being happy, we become angry and envious. Have we not sought our own righteousness and relegated the righteousness which comes through faith in Jesus to the background?
“His father came out and began to plead with him” v. 28
His father’s plea was to calm his justified anger. Unfortunately his anger blinded him so much so that he did not realize that everything in his father’s house belongs to him. Indeed, he lost everything. In our anger, let us be careful because, we will lose everything, we will lose our son ship in God’s kingdom. The elder son thought that obeying his father and working for him as a slave meant righteousness. Indeed, he complained that his father never appreciated his hard work let alone organize a feast in his honour. But unlike the younger son, he did not ask his father for anything. Sometimes in our self- righteousness, we think that God knows everything we need and so we do not ask. Indeed, he knows everything but we must ask. When those who in our own estimation do not deserve God’s favour are favored because they asked, we became angry like the Elder brother.
“But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes; you killed a fatted calf for him… v. 30”
The elder brother is not aware that his brother is a changed person; a transformed man. He is still living in his past; he is holy than thou. His vision has been clouded and obscured by his self- righteousness. Thus instead of rejoicing in his brother’s conversion, he is angry; he is sad and will not even listen to his father’s plea “… Son you are always with me and all that I have is yours, but we must celebrate and rejoice because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life he was lost and has been found (v.31-32).” The impudence with which he says to his father “…When this son of yours came back after devouring your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him (v.30) must be condemned. Indeed, his younger brother was a son of his father that is why he is pleased to have him back safe and sound. Our return to God is not to be determined by our past life. Jesus wants to accept us for who we are. Indeed, if angels in heaven will rejoice over one repentant sinner than ninety-nine righteous people who are you, an individual, to be angry about the conversion of someone? If you do that you will lose everything including your years of faithfulness to the Lord. I believe that the Elder brother was overwhelmed by the fact that his father received is wayward brother back with such alacrity. Indeed, in the acts of love, words are lost.
It must be emphasized that by his choice of words, the elder brother lost three things:
• He became an enemy to his brother.
• He lost friendship with his own brother.
• He lost his share of the estate
Knowing God without knowing our wretchedness leads to pride so says Blaise Pascal. This is what happens to most of us. God continues to plead with us to make a return to him but we have allowed jealousy to cloud this beatific vision. What then becomes of the elder brother in the parable? In comparison to his younger brother, who is better placed? Where do you place yourself? Are you broken? The Lord is calling and waiting for you. He is calling tenderly (song).