Even though you get treated wrong for doing right, you are living right; you are living with God in charge.
Think about it. When God sent prophets who said and did things in obedience to God as King (the kingdom of heaven) how were they treated? Angrily. The world is trying to live AS IF God were far away and practically we are in charge. When we live defiantly like that we really don’t like someone reminding us that we should be living loyally to the king. That is what happened to the prophets. If you are living God’s way some people are not going to like it at all. They will even mistreat you. You are not to be joyful about their mistreatment directly, just joyful about what their mistreatment means: you really are living God’s way clearly enough to enrage the people trying to distance themselves from God. You are experiencing the kingdom even while they are mistreating you. Think how much more you will enjoy it when the King is fully revealed!
Righteousness is like a little dish with salt in it. It is good unless people dip stuff in it in a way that the salt gets mixed up with stuff being dipped in it. What can you do with the salt then? Toss it. It is the same with righteousness. Even if you are righteous, but you are also unrighteous, the mixed character is not going to allow you to really experience God’s way of life. Even thieves have right stuff that they do from time to time. Fair enough. But if they are also stealing, then their nice things done for the community don’t really make them useful to the community. Their lawless ways mixed with their lawful ways leaves them lawless. So it is with righteousness. You can’t experience God meaningfully as King while you are regularly in rebellion. You should be unmixed in your character, in your way of living loyally to the King.
But suppose you decided to never do ‘unrighteous’ things. Maybe you moved off to live in a cave. You wouldn’t steal, kill, lie, commit adultery or any other blatantly unrighteous act. Also, imagine that you prayed morning, noon and night and studied the Word relentlessly. Well, you might be able to say that you were living unmixed; pure. Light is pure. Unlike salt, it can’t be mixed. But Jesus has a warning for those who try and hide from unrighteousness: living like that is as useless as living all mixed up. You are pure, but blocked from usefulness. He uses the image of an oil lamp burning a pure flame. Is it pure, unmixed; even ‘righteous’? Yes. But put a basket over it. Now is it right? No. It is useless. Righteousness is NOT the avoidance of bad stuff, righteousness is the success of right stuff. What do I mean? A doctor can never make a mistake if he doesn’t do any surgery. But if he is a doctor and won’t do a needed operation for someone he has done wrong. James, Jesus’ half-brother says it this way:
James 4:17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Jesus realizes that some in the crowds, both disciples and others, are probably looking really confused by now. He makes his point extra clear:
Matthew 5:17-20 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (18) For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (19) Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (20) For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The Law and the Prophets is a common Jewish way of saying the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). They are God’s revealed truth. They are actually supposed to be lived out. People were created to be wise, not foolish, loving, not foolish. The community of people loyal to God as King are not supposed to look for loop holes in God’s truth, they are actually supposed to learn, live and teach them as the RIGHT way to live. So is Jesus saying we should REALLY live rightly (instead of wrongly)? Well, yes, I think it is fair to say he is. The Pharisees, like a messed up dish of salt or a blocked out light are less than what God as King would have. Do you BELIEVE that God is King? Are you a loyalist for the Kingdom of Heaven? Well, Jesus says you really ought to act like it. If you do you will experience that it really is a great way to live. In fact, its righteous!