“The righteousness that comes from the law” (v.5); “the righteousness that comes from faith” (v.6): judging by the epistle itself, bringing/keeping this contrast in focus was not a simple matter. “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (6:1) “Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (6:15) So, while today’s text does not lack elements that might keep us occupied…
Would it help to notice some of the things Matthew does with righteousness and the law? (“Some” so as not to commit to a book-length post!). For example:
- Matthew starts his story by introducing Joseph as a “righteous man,” whose response to Mary’s pregnancy is to plan to break off the engagement quietly. An angel sets him on a different course, which may prompt the reader to wonder if this divine initiative is going to unsettle other assumptions regarding righteousness.
- “…unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20)—and the examples which follow take our notions of righteousness in unexpected directions.
- At the end of an interchange with the Pharisees: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (9:13).
It looks like the question of what righteousness God (now?) requires is central to Matthew. So how is this question like or unlike the question(s) Paul is dealing with in Romans?
Shifting gears, Byrne makes an important observation re “zeal” (v.2): “While it is true that nothing masks human need for the gift of salvation so successfully as misguided religious zeal, that failure is not tied to any particular religion nor is the faith that overcomes it tied to any particular religious system—Christianity or any other. Both attitudes are possible within theistic systems and both are equally possible within Judaism and Christianity.”