By: Staci Stallings
It’s VBS season again. How that keeps coming around so fast, I’ll never know.
For me VBS is not a week. It’s not really even a couple preparation days and a week. It’s more… a way of life for about six months every year. First, there’s the anticipation starting in about January: What are the stories going to be this year? What small or large miracles are these plays going to take?
In February or March, I get the Bible texts of each day. This year we’ve got five new plays that we’ve never done before. Abraham, Joseph, the call of the Disciples, the Good Samaritan, and Philip. That starts a few weeks of reading and thinking and just giving time to be inspired (i.e. let the Holy Spirit work). Then the work to put those ideas into reality through words and props and costumes and actors and rehearsals, etc. Then the actual productions.
This year, I’ve been reading several other books dealing with spiritual addiction and approval addiction and pretty much the trap of being a Pharisee, knowing you’re a Pharisee and what to do about that.
One of the plays is the Good Samaritan, and rather than simply do the play, I chose to have Jesus TELL the parable as the play is going. So it starts out as the Bible story does with Jesus speaking to His followers. Now one interesting side note here is that the parable that immediately precedes this one is the Prodigal Son. I never really realized that until now, but in context it makes perfect sense.
You see, Jesus is telling the crowd about the Prodigal Son, and there’s a Pharisee in the crowd. Now to the Pharisee’s way of thinking, this whole Prodigal Son thing is ridiculous. That the Father would FORGIVE this errant child and just take him back? Why that’s absurd! I can just hear him now, “I’ve spent my whole life trying to please God. I’ve followed every rule, and now He’s just going to let these stinking sinners in? Where’s the justice in that?!” (He’s got “Older Brother Syndrome” BIG TIME!)
So, this Pharisee isn’t buying this at all. He says, “Well, I’ve kept the Law. What more do you want?” Jesus asks what he believes the Law teaches. The Pharisee answers, “Love the Lord with all your heart and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.” To which Jesus says, “Very good. You know the Law.” But this self-righteous Pharisee isn’t done. You see, he KNOWS he is better than everyone else, and he’s on a mission to prove it.
He looks at Jesus with spite and fire and says, “Well, just who do You consider to be my neighbor?”
See, to this Pharisee if Jesus is talking about the kinds of people Jesus associates with, this Pharisee wants nothing to do with that because he is using his own good works to put himself ABOVE others. He’s into comparing and condemning and making sure EVERYONE knows how “righteous” he is by his own works.. That’s his game.
Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t really come against the man so much as to show him how wrong his heart is. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan. In the story, the priest and the Levite (men of the Temple, case in point: Pharisees… men who are living by the Law but not by the heart of God) come by this man who has been beaten and robbed, and they walk right on by. Oh, they have good excuses… can’t soil my good robe as I’m headed to services, don’t have time, have to get to the Temple. But the story points out the wrongness of their hearts.)
In putting all of this together with what I’m reading, I’m realizing what real righteousness is. First, I will tell you what it’s not.
Making duty more important than taking care of others.
It’s not reading a set amount of the Bible each day and being able to spout verses to impress everybody else.
Being so Heavenly conscious that you’re no earthly good.
Using your belief in God as a way to impress other people.
Holding yourself up as some paragon of truth and perfection because of your actions.
Being a “martyr” to others’ expectations and wishes.
Comparing and condemning.
So what IS Real Righteousness?
Being right in your heart with God, having your actions follow your heart which only wants that which is good for God and good for others (and for yourself as well).
Accepting what God’s done for you and being so, so, eternally grateful for that.
Being humble–not puffing yourself up with pride, but realizing God is the One doing your good actions through you.
Trusting–not being on your own agenda and time table.
Being kind to all those you meet.
Doing your actions out of love rather than what you can get or what the other person will then “owe” you.
Being genuinely happy when others get good things because you can see your Father’s hand in them.
Knowing you are a child of the God of the Universe, and wanting others to see that they are as well.
Working to heal and make whole with and through God all those who are hurting.
Helping from a heart that wants the best for others.
Real righteousness starts in a soft heart and moves in a spirit of grace and peace and mercy to all those around. It holds that others are valuable and worthy because God made them as well. It does not strive on an agenda other than God’s or even “for” God. It simply rests in the understanding that God has already set it right, and it’s actions flow from that rather than trying to gain that.
Real righteousness is God’s to give and yours to receive… no striving or impressing necessary.