Right vs. Righteous

Like many of the rest of you – just a guess here – I like to be right.

I like to give the right answer, er, question, when I watch Jeopardy.

I believe there is a right way and a wrong way to load the dishwasher. And despite the family friction it causes now and then, I prefer to do it the right way (i.e., MY way).

I like to park the car in the right place, facing the right way, with the right amount of distance between my tires and the curb. 

I like to wear the right clothes… very important with the changeable weather we get around here. 

I like to eat the right foods. I like to say the right things. I like to feel the right feelings, think the right thoughts, believe the right beliefs, take the right actions, and root for the right NFL football team (GO CHIEFS!!)

You know, when I stop to think about it, I am not sure I know anyone who knowingly sets out to be wrong… even when they are.

Sometimes though, the pursuit of BEING RIGHT comes at an extraordinarily high cost. Especially when it comes to trivial things like loading (or unloading) the dishwasher, parking the car, shining your shoes, or cooking rice. Trust me. I have the scars to prove it.

And I suspect Jesus, the Old Testament prophets, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would all hasten to remind us that there is a big difference between being RIGHT and being RIGHTEOUS. The book of Proverbs warns us about this dangerous pursuit, saying, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end, it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12, NRSV).

The dictionary defines righteous as: morally right or justifiable: acting in an upright, moral way; virtuousNone of which, you’ll note, has anything to do with whether the tines of all the forks are pointing the right direction in the dishwasher. 

When we spend precious time and energy on being RIGHT, we easily lose sight of the call to righteousness. I don’t want to meet Saint Peter some day and hear him say, “Great job on folding those T-shirts correctly, Russell, but what about the hungry, the homeless, and the outcast gathered there on your doorstep every day? Did you forget about them?”

Isaiah the prophet puts it even more bluntly:

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.”
  (Isaiah 58:9-10, NRSV)

The difference, it seems, between RIGHT and RIGHTEOUS is all about who sets the standards. In broad terms I think it is accurate to say that humans set themselves up as the arbiters of what is right while Goddetermines what is righteous

I am a day late with this post that was originally (believe it or not) intended to be a tribute to Dr. King. But I hope we can all be inspired in our own spheres to continually ask the question Dr. King seemed to set as his North Star: What does righteousness require of me today?

And I am pretty sure the answer has nothing to do with how you load the dishwasher.

Abundant blessings;

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