In yesterday’s column, we reviewed some of the hard realities of life for many in western Michigan today, as the economic crisis continues. As believers, we worship and serve the God whose work we can identify when we see righteousness in the world. In the context of this ongoing recession, so many of our neighbors are struggling to cobble together the basic requirements of life – and are not looking, at this moment, for the “abundance” Jesus brings (John 10:10). What does righteousness mean in this moment?
The central meaning of righteousness in the Bible is membership in the covenant with God, and behavior appropriate to that membership (N.T.Wright, New Dictionary of Theology, 1988). The covenant relationship we have with God has been instituted, or initiated, by God. We have been invited into this relationship by God’s action. This invitation is not an individual call – we are invited into this relationship in community with others. The relationship with God impacts, forms, and informs the relationship we have, then, with each other.
The challenge I left you with yesterday was fairly concrete. A school district (East Grand Rapids Public Schools) with more resources, less poor people and higher test scores is considered for consolidation with a larger district that has the exactly opposite profile (Grand Rapids Public Schools). The reaction of EGR residents was swift and predictable – yes, our schools are better, but this is not because of the way wealth has been distributed.
Righteousness is shown in the way that we live out the covenant relationship we have with God. Righteous living calls us to understand that we do not have wealth because we deserve it, nor do some people have less than we because they deserve less. Righteousness, in this case, forces community reflection on the root causes of the difficulties in the Grand Rapids Public Schools; righteousness causes us to think of the whole community as OUR community, OUR challenges, OUR problems.
Righteousness claims us; the covenant relationship we have with God links us inextricably to other people. The church, Wright states, is “an example of God’s new humanity” and “the means by which the plan of God for global justice is being put into effect”. We are being formed, by our relationship with God, into righteous people. We are being changed. We are different because of God’s righteousness, operating in us. As the recession continues, how is this difference being worked in us, that we may be agents of God’s plan?