Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
When you inherit responsibility for those who suffer, you recognize when suffering is unjust. You will not be satisfied with what is unrighteous in the world until righteousness wins and God satisfies you with it.
Righteousness can be interpreted to mean morally right. Another word for righteousness in the context of the Bible is just. Strong’s Concordances identifies the greek word for righteous as dikaios.
just; especially, just in the eyes of God; righteous; the elect (a Jewish idea).
When I put the English word righteousness into Google Translate, I got νομιμότητα. When I plugged that back into the Greek to the English, I got legality. So which is it? Having the right morals, following the law, or being a person of justice? For the purposes of this study, I will interpret this beatitude as meaning those who want justice as badly as food and water. Jesus’ righteousness is not about following laws written in a book. It is about bringing justice forth into the world. But that does not mean forcing people to believe and behave in the way that you see as right, or in the way which God has shown you. I believe Jesus is referring to the Kingdom of God of which the Beatitudes seek to bring about.
I think we also need to make a distinction between self-righteous and righteous. I see people flinch when I use the “R” word. I can read their minds. They are thinking about the hypocrites of whom Jesus often spoke. Those who make a display of their giving, praying, and fasting. But they are not righteous. They are self-righteous. Jesus says that they have received their reward, their reward being the attention they have brought on themselves. Whereas, when we do these actions in secret, God will reward us in secret.
Each beatitude is a call to action that’s motivation begins with the blessing of the previous step. When I become poor in spirit, there is a space made in me. When I become meek, as Jesus did washing the feet of his disciples, I wish to serve a suffering world. This space that is now in our hearts leaves us with a hunger for what is right and just. In the absence of righteousness, there is suffering. So we will conclude that to alleviate suffering, we must seek to be a source of righteousness in the world, not for the sake of our salvation or ourselves, but for the sake of the suffering.
I have a friend who is very poor. Due to a disability, his ability to make money is very limited. He was suffering from hunger, unjust hunger, every day. So a group of friends and I decided to help him with food, transportation, and whatever else he might need. He claimed that he could not receive food stamps. I did not think that was right. He is the poorest guy I know. He claimed that his liaison with DHS told him that he did not qualify.
I was incensed. This wasn’t just. This wasn’t right. But there was nothing I could do to change it. He did not want me to advocate for him. So we continued to make this right by supplementing his income with our assistance. I hungered for righteousness.
Then one day, he gave me a call to tell me that he was now receiving food stamps and that he would be able to buy his own food. In that moment, I was filled. My hunger was satisfied. God made it right. I do not know how this happened or why this had become an issue, but God made it right. My friends had interceded on behalf of righteousness. They sought to serve, to be meek. Out of their meekness, they recognized suffering, saw that it was the result of an injustice, and hungered for righteousness for this man. Then God satisfied our desires for justice. We became filled, and so did the man. We become filled with righteousness. We become right with God and our neighbor. All of our moral failings can fall away when we are filled with righteousness.
In my years of hearing or reading this verse, I believed it was about following the rules, piety, morals, and being good. It seemed impossible to me to just be good all of the time. I think those ideals are good. We should strive to be better, to be moral. But I don’t think we can simply make ourselves moral by following the laws of our faith. The Pharisees and Sadducees followed all of the moral codes of their time and yet Jesus criticized them for their immorality. Righteousness is a gift from God which begins with our desire to make things right in the world. And when we hunger for what is right and become filled with it, then we will begin to develop the next virtue which is to become merciful.