Word Study: Righteousness
Gk: Dikaiosune: denotes the uprightness and faithfulness of God and His people. It is covenant language and is used 7 times in Matthew and 85 times in the rest of the New Testament.
- God is righteous because He perfectly fulfills His covenant with Israel as their Divine Father. In the New Testament, God now demonstrates His righteousness through the saving work of Jesus Christ.
- For God’s people, righteousness is a New Covenant gift from Christ. It is first given in Baptism and received by faith. (Rom 5: 17) it denotes that our relationship as God’s adopted children has been restored. This gift of righteousness can increase through love and obedience to God’s covenant. (Mt. 5: 6)
The Fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets
(Matthew 5: 17-20)
(5: 17) to fulfill them: Jesus completely fulfilled the Mosaic Law and Old Testament prophecies. The Greek work that is translated as “fulfill” means “to make complete.” The New Covenant includes and concludes the Old; perfecting and transforming it. In the Christian life, the power of the Holy Spirit is necessary if we are to obey the Law (as Jesus refined it) and grow in holiness. (CCC 577-81; 1967)
(5: 18) an iota: corresponds to the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet (yod.) a dot: Tiny extensions that distinguish similar-looking Hebrew letters from one another.
(5: 20) your righteousness: Jesus inaugurates a new and climatic phase in salvation history. He introduces a New Covenant standard of righteousness that surpasses the real but insufficient righteousness of the Old Covenant.
Jesus invites the scribes and pharisees to recognize the Mosaic Law as God’s temporary arrangement for Israel that drew them closer to Him by separating them from the sins of the Gentiles. Christ’s New Covenant signals the dawning of the great day when God would write His Law on their hearts. (CCC 1963 – 68)
The Old Covenant formed virtuous citizens in Israel. The New Covenant generates saints in the Church.
St. Thomas Aquinas (CCC 1964)
There were. . . under the regimen of the Old Covenant, people who possessed the charity and grace of the Holy Spirit and longed above all for the spiritual and eternal promises by which they were associated with the New Law. Conversely, there exist carnal men under the New Covenant, still distanced from the perfection of the New Law: the fear of punishment and certain temporal promises have been necessary, even under the New Covenant, to incite them to virtuous works. In any case, even though the Old Law prescribed charity, it did not give the Holy Spirit, through whom “God’s charity has been poured into our hearts.”
Next Time: Beginning The Six Antithesis (Matthew 5: 21-48)
Study Question: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus implements a new level of covenant righteousness that stretches beyond the boundaries of the Old Law. How?
Meditation: Pray Psalm 95 and “Harden not your hearts” this Lenten season.