Tuesday, March 31, 2020. We have been discussing the personal framework of reference for our life. It means the framework which defines what is important to us, what is the goal and purpose and relational point of our life. You could say the framework of reference IS our life, in the sense that to us our life gets its meaning and purpose from this reference framework.
We have started to look into the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus gives advice on this reference framework. He talks about “your righteousness” which should not be practiced before other people. Today, let us discuss this in more depth. What does it mean?
Your Righteousness …
First, let us read the passage again. It is from Matthew 6, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount.
1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6, 1-4)
What does Jesus mean with “your righteousness”? He talks about behaviour which follows the law. He talks about good behaviour, about right behaviour. But more than behaviour itself, he also talks about the larger entity, our attitudes, our motivation. He refers to the whole of our will and words and behaviour.
It is interesting to see the different layers in these arguments here. First, there is “our righteousness”. This can be seen as compliance of attitude, words and behaviour - perhaps even compliance of our whole existence, with what is right.
Second, you need a reference framework to tell you what is right. Laws are given, rules are set. Purpose is given by a reference framework. So “your righteousness” needs this reference framework, and it is not given by the other people. They are all bound to it.
and the Lord …
So why are we interested in other people to judge the compliance of our actions or attitudes with the goals and ethics given to us (where ever this might come from, the argument is rather general). By letting them take part in our righteousness we show that they are part of our reference framework. It might even be that they ARE our reference framework.
Is it less the ethics and rules we follow than the applause of other people? Are THEY our true reference framework? Whose approval do we need and why? Yes, humans are social beings. We are dependent on others, we need community. But are they what should judge our purpose? And: who is it who should judge it? Some general “community”? Who is the community? Is it particular people? The leaders? Or through rules of democracy? Or are WE the ones who should judge it? We are our own king?
Do you see how difficult it is to find the right reference framework? People tend to relate to some people who have power or influence. And they tend to behave in a way that they please them, that they comply with their standards. But that can lead to varying behaviour without much consistency, depending on the people who seem to be most influential at a given point in time.
Jesus wants us to relate to God, to the Lord. He wants our reference framework to be God himself, the eternal God, the creator, the beginning and the end. Nothing else is worth of being the definition point of our existence. HE has made us. He is there, looking for you and for me. Our righteousness will be defined by him - we should discuss in another go what this righteousness might be today, for you and for me. (Roland Potthast)