The righteous are surprised. They don’t know their deeds. They haven’t kept score. Their left hand doesn’t seem to know what their right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3)….
The righteous were righteous because of their deeds and they didn’t know it. They didn’t know their own righteousness…. The righteousness of the sheep was precisely an alien righteousness. They didn’t even know they possessed it!…
Note that in the story the opposite is also true. The unrighteous ones know their deeds. They have kept score…. The unrighteous are quite confident about their righteousness. It is always so with humanly crafted righteousness. Those who measure their righteousness on human scales are in for a shock at the day of judgment. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 7:21)….
Jesus’ vision makes it clear. The life of the Christian is a life given in love to the least of these. But that’s good works, isn’t it? Won’t such good works for our neighbor destroy the “faith alone” foundation of our faith? (We Lutherans actually worry about this at times.) The answer to our question is “No.” Our good works will not destroy our “faith alone” posture. We can do all the loving of the least and little ones we can possibly imagine and not be liable to belief in works-righteousness. We are called to do lots of good works. We are also called not to keep score. When we keep score of our deeds we want to credit our love of neighbor to our heavenly bank account. Loving our neighbor is not the problem. Keeping score of our good deeds of neighbor-love is the problem. The truly righteous don’t keep score. Their left hand doesn’t know what their right hand is doing. Such as these will stand before the Sovereign one day clothed in Christ’s righteousness alone.
- Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthew in The New Interpreter’s Bible, VIII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994) 454-59
- Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Book, 2000) 491-97
- T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007). 957-67.
- Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) 355-60
- Daniel J. Harrington, “Matthew” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) 897-98
- Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2009) 602-6
- David Turner and Darrell L. Bock, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005). 328-31