Righteousness In A Broken World
All actions and all attitudes have their consequences. If we are paying attention to the news today, we are aware that there are an awful lot of evil actions and negative attitudes effecting the world at present. Of course, it has always been so. But that is why this passage from Isaiah is so important for us to reflect on again today. It was a message that needed to be heard in his day, and it needs to be heard again in our own day. More importantly, we need to pray that God will give Christians everywhere the courage to live righteous lives, so that our righteous actions might help to bring about “the fruit of peace” and the “effect of quietness” that our families, our neighborhoods, our societies and the world so desperately needs.
Righteousness, correctly understood, is the result of virtuous, that is, moral character. To be moral is to live in accord with the natural law, the Law of God. Isaiah is saying that true justice and true peace will come to Israel when its rulers are themselves righteous. Of course, the same is true today. But as Christians, we know that this message is to be taken personally as well. In order for justice and peace to enter our lives, each one of us must become virtuous in our own lives. We must first develop the virtuous habit of self-discipline. In order to do this, we must know what is truly righteous, good, and just. As Christian believers, we do this by reading and reflecting on the scriptures regularly and by seeking the counsel of those who are recognized for their righteousness, their holiness, or their love of God. We must also take on the difficult task of self-reflection in the light of the scriptures. And we have the best reason in the world to do this, that is, we have seen the infinite love of God for us in His Son Jesus Christ. We know and believe that we have been forgiven, that though we may at times be prodigal, he will always welcome us home with open arms, if and when we return to him with chastised and sorrowful hearts.
What are the virtues that we need to develop in order to become righteous? The first thing to recognize about virtue is that it is always other oriented. It is never self-centered. The classical virtues were always articulated as temperance, courage and justice. Temperance is the quality of moderation in all things, of self-restraint. Courage is the ability to willingly sacrifice or suffer for the good, that is, for the moral good. Justice is an attitude of equity. It recognizes the right that every human being possesses to be treated fairly, with infinite respect and dignity, and the duty we each have to honor that universal right in all of our actions and all of our words.
Christianity also teaches the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. We know that true righteousness requires more than mere willpower on our part. It is not easy to be righteous in this broken world. We need the grace of God to aid us in the effort. We know that we need his forgiveness as well, for we often fail in our efforts to become righteous individuals and communities. God gives us the gift of faith, but we must be open to it and then be willing to live in accord with it. Because we are in a personal relationship with God, we also have responsibilities toward Him and toward our neighbors, in return for his generous gifts. Hope is our strength in the face of hard times. We have reason to hope because we know that the promises the Lord made to the Chosen People from the time of Abraham have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Love is the power that inspires our righteousness. We believe that “God is love” and when we develop the virtue of love, we are partaking in the life of Christ intimately here and now. Love, then, is the empowering and nurturing force that makes our righteousness effective.
Lord, our hearts yearn for peace and quietness. Help us in our efforts to develop righteous lives, to build the habits of virtuous character modeled on the life of Christ. We pray this in your name, Jesus, knowing that you will generously answer our prayers. Amen!
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