God shows his righteousness and justice by having mercy! This is the great revelation. The apostle says God is “just and justifying,” that is, he is just to himself when he justifies human beings; he is in fact love and mercy, so for that reason he is just to himself—he truly demonstrates who he is—when he has mercy.
But we cannot understand any of this if we do not know exactly what the expression “the righteousness of God” means. There is a danger that people can hear about the righteousness of God but not understand its meaning, so instead of being encouraged they are frightened. St. Augustine had already clearly explained its meaning centuries ago: “The ‘righteousness of God’ is that by which we are made righteous, just as ‘the salvation of God’ [see Ps 3:8] means the salvation by which he saves us.” In other words, the righteousness of God is that by which God makes those who believe in his Son Jesus acceptable to him. It does not enact justice but makes people just Therefore, to say “the righteousness of God has been manifested” is like saying that God’s goodness, his love, his mercy, has been revealed. God’s justice not only does not contradict his mercy but consists precisely in mercy!
God was not satisfied with merely forgiving people’s sins; he did infinitely more than that: he took those sins upon himself, he shouldered them himself. The Son of God, says Paul, “became sin for us.” What a shocking statement!
In the Middle Ages some people found it difficult to believe that God would require the death of his Son in order to reconcile the world to himself. St. Bernard responded to this by saying, “What pleased God was not Christ’s death but his will in dying of his own accord”: “Non mors placuit sed voluntas sponte morientis.” It was not death, then, but love that saved us!
The love of God reached human beings at the farthest point to which they were driven in their flight from him, death itself.
The above is an excerpt from a homily given by Capuchin preacher to the Apostolic Household, Fr. Raniero Cantalamesa, O.F.M.Cap.