Here’s an interesting word puzzle: what is the opposite of “self-righteous?” Merriam-Webster defines “righteous” as “acting in accord with divine or moral law – free from guilt or sin.” The same dictionary defines “self-righteous” as “narrow-mindedly moralistic.”
The texts for this Sunday, The Baptism of Our Lord, focus on the issue of righteousness. John the Baptist is hesitant to baptize Jesus, believing that it should be the one who is more righteous who baptizes the one who is less. Jesus reverses that expectation, and shows John that baptism isn’t something we own and can choose to give to others – but something that comes freely as God’s gift to all of us. Peter has heard this good news, and preaches in Acts, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality…” (Acts 10:34)
No one wants to be thought of as “self-righteous.” It carries all sorts of negative associations with haughtiness, judgmentalism and isolation. What is the alternative? To be “God-righteous,” or to be blessed with the righteousness of God, which falls on us all – guilty and innocent, insider and outsider – as freely as rain from the clouds.