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How to Be a Spiritual Warrior, Part 5 of 9

Suzy is an ordained Interspiritual Priest with the UAIC-Not Your Grandma's Church! She holds an M.Div. from Claremont School of Theology.

A Quick Review

We have defined a “Spiritual Warrior” as a person who has the strength to know who they are, what they stand for, where they are called, and how they are going to get there. As we have seen, this is different from what some might think. A true Spiritual Warrior is not someone who is standing in the streets, hollering in the faces of others about sin or evil. In fact, a true Spiritual Warrior is more likely to be in direct opposition of this type of religious person. Jesus’ list of the blessed from his Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew is the main writing we are looking at as a guide to becoming Spiritual Warriors ourselves. In our last article, we looked at “the meek.” We discovered most of us have interpreted this as those who are weak and malleable. However, we decided that Jesus meant something entirely different. That is, Jesus more likely taught that those who are strong enough to “endure injury with patience and without resentment.” Those who are down-to-earth, humble, and unpretentious are the “meek” who are blessed. These synonyms of “meek” describe Jesus himself, and are attributes that we should aspire to.

Righteousness

Today we look at “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” I don’t know about you, but I think we find another challenge when we read or hear the word “righteousness.” For a long time, this word elicited a negative feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’d like to talk a little bit about the word and why it might make me feel this way. As I prepared this message, I reached out to others about this. In general, those to whom I spoke told me that they initially had a negative reaction to the word.

After some self-examination and continued discussion about this phenomenon, I discovered that this word makes many of us think of people who are self-righteous. The self-righteous are individuals who think they live an exemplary life and that their way of living is the only right way to do so. These are the people who believe their religion is the only right religion, that their perception of God is the correct one, and that everyone else is both wrong and in need of saving.

When you hear the word “righteousness,” does it cause any kind of reaction in you? What is that feeling?

The Meaning of Righteousness

As I did with the word “meek,” I used the dictionary to remind myself what the word “righteousness” actually means. Merriam-Webster defines righteousness as:

1: acting in accord with divine or moral law : free from guilt or sin

2a: morally right or justifiable, for instance: a righteous decision

b: arising from an outraged sense of justice or morality, as in: righteous indignation

Of course, this means my negative response to the word is inappropriate. If something is righteous, it is a good thing, and it is good to seek righteousness. I realize, then, that my response is not to righteousness, but to self-righteousness!

Self-Righteousness

A self-righteous person is one who believes that they behave more morally and ethically than others people. These are people who represent themselves as being better morally and therefore closer to God than others. In the book of Luke, chapter 18, verses 9-14, Jesus tells a parable about two men. One was a Pharisee, a leader in one of the Jewish sects within the community. The other was a tax collector. Tax collectors were a hated bunch in those days, because they often took more than they were required to for themselves before handing the required amount to those who received the payments; that is, the Romans. Since these tax collectors were in essence working for the oppressive occupying government, they were doubly hated. In the parable, these two very different men were praying at the temple at the same time. The Pharisee stood aloof and alone, and his prayer went something like this:

“God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”

The tax-collector was standing even further away. He didn’t even look up to the sky. He beat his breast while he prayed, saying,

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Of the two, who is the righteous man? Who is the self-righteous man?

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Artist: Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. Engraver: Unknown. Source: Die Bibel in Bildern, Plate 200

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Artist: Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. Engraver: Unknown. Source: Die Bibel in Bildern, Plate 200

Humility

Jesus told his listeners that this man, the tax collector, left his prayer time closer to God than the Pharisee. Why do you think this was the case?

The tax collector, hated by his peers, was not only humble, but he admitted to both God and himself that he was not a perfect person, but was sinful. Whereas the Pharisee told God about how great he was, that he did nothing to ask forgiveness for. In fact, he told God about all the good things he did in the world. Jesus explained it like this:

“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Humility – being humble – is a characteristic of a Spiritual Warrior. A self-righteous person is not a humble person, for they not only believe that they are always in the right, but they tell everyone all about it.

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So, what does it mean to be righteous? I believe it means to take into consideration all options when making decisions. It means to consider the situation of those involved, and whether or not a decision will hurt others, or even oneself.

Is It Possible?

Can anyone truly be righteous in this life? There are many who believe it is not possible, but I think it is. Just as I think it’s possible to be spiritually perfect in this life. The problem is that once a person thinks they are righteous, they have slipped over into self-righteousness. It seems to me that it’s better to continue to seek to be righteous and to acknowledging our faults. As we try to walk the path of a Spiritual Warrior, we must always remember that we do not have all the answers. We must weigh the pros and cons of our decisions, particularly if what we do will affect others. When we realize an action that we have taken has had a negative effect, we need to be honest with ourselves. Righteous action takes constant reassessment and shifts in our behavior. Admitting that we are wrong or that we have been hurtful is the first step in what Christians refer to as redemption. Changing how we behave based on new information is repentance. As we become better, we are truly seeking righteousness. If we ever find ourselves thinking we have attained it, we probably have to step back and look realistically at our lives. It’s heartening to realize that Jesus didn’t say “Blessed are the righteous…” He said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

The Golden Rule

What do you think it takes to be righteous? What behaviors or values make a person righteous? Jesus himself gives guidance in this. He provided the secret to righteousness when he gave the two commandments that, if followed, would lead us to it. These greatest commandments are recounted in Matthew 22:36-40. Together, they are often referred to as “The Golden Rule.”

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

The Golden Rule in World Traditions

This guidance is not unique to Christianity. The concept of caring for others, for loving your neighbor as yourself, is a common theme in world spiritual paths. Below are some ways that other religious and spiritual traditions say something similar.

Confucianism -- Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.-- Analects 15:23

Islam -- None of you is a believer until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself. -- Number 13 of Imam Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths

Buddhism -- Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. -- Udana-Varga 5:18

Hinduism -- This is the sum of all duty: do nothing to others which, if it were done to you, would cause you pain. -- Mahabharata, 5:1517

Judaism -- Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. -- Leviticus 19:18

Taoism -- Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss. -- words of T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien

Zoroastrianism -- That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself. -- from Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29

Wicca – And ye harm none; do what ye will. – The Wiccan Rede

Baha'i Faith -- "And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself." -- from Epistle to the Son of the Wolf

Jainism -- A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated. —  Sutrakritanga, 1.11.33

Sikhism -- Precious like jewels are the minds of all. To hurt them is not at all good. If thou desirest thy Beloved, then hurt thou not anyone's heart. —  Guru Arjan Dev Ji 259, Guru Granth Sahib

Yoruba -- One who is going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts. —  Yoruba Proverb

Secular Views of the Golden Rule

There are living and ancient spiritual and religious traditions that do not provide a “golden rule.” However, this does not stop a practitioner of such a tradition from adopting or adapting it to their own practice. One need to have a “god” to tell them how to live righteously. There are also secular roots in such guidance:

Ancient Greek Philosophy – What you do not want to happen to you, do not do it yourself either. – Sextus the Pythagorean.

Late Period Ancient Egyptian -- That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another. Papyrus dated c. 664–323 BCE

Humanism – …many people find the Golden Rule’s corollary – "do not treat people in a way you would not wish to be treated yourself" – more pragmatic.” -- Maria MacLachlan, Think Humanism

Another Bit of the Armor

Do you hunger to live an ethical, moral life? Do you thirst for opportunities to act against injustice in some way, great or small? If you do, you are donning another piece of the Armor of Light. You are becoming a Spiritual Warrior. You are becoming more of who you are meant to be. Surely, this is what Jesus meant when he said, “…for they will be filled.”

If you were to choose a behavior or value to work on in your own life, what would it be?

Resources

United Religions Initiative (URI) website

Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) website

My own knowledge - bolstered with a visit to Wikipedia

© 2022 Suzy Jacobson Cherry

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