The Fourth Beatitude
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”—Matthew Chapter 5, Verse 6
Primary Sources: Scripture and Commentaries
With the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, mourning becomes a blessing because the mourners will be comforted God does the comforting through the Spirit, through the Word, through the work God does in and through others. The affliction/sorrow of mourning thus becomes a profound relationship with God. That is a blessing indeed. In touching our pain, God transforms sadness into joy, fear into hope, etc., blessing us. Thus we get a glimpse of the transforming work God can do in our lives and relationships.
So in understanding the fourth Beatitude, we continue that movement into saying “Yes” to transformation; to day-to-day conversion. Understanding the fourth Beatitude turns on understanding what Jesus meant by the word “righteousness.” In ancient Judaism, righteousness meant “to acquit, vindicate, restore to a right relationship.” (12) The righteous, then, are those who maintain right relationships with God, with the people in their lives and with their world. As a Franciscan, I find this perspective to be very exciting, is right relationship is what Franciscans are all about.
Based on right relationships, those who commit infractions are acquitted of guilt. Have you received the blessing of being filled with right relationships? It flows from the third Beatitude, meekness, because we can only form right relationships with others when we cease making all of our actions revolve around ourselves.
Do you hunger for right relationships? Hunger is a sign of life, as is thirst, and the experience of hunger and thirst, experienced alone or together, can themselves be physically very intense and can produce a yearning like no other. Do we yearn for right relationships with the same profound intensity and power?
We are genuinely hungering for good relationships when we yearn for others for their own sake, not just as a snack food for meeting our own needs. If we see that we have God’s grace for this, we will hunger and thirst for right relationships, not only with God, but with the people with whom we work and live. If we live in right relationship, we live in righteousness; it is right with our world.
Jesus says that those who have this hunger and thirst for righteousness will have their appetites filled. It is easy to see wrongs in our work places and our world and to want to do battle and fix them. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness is wanting/yearning to see wrongs righted.
The Christian faith has been the source of many of the greatest reforms in the world, e.g., perhaps the most notable being the abolition of slavery in Great Britain and the U.S., and the genesis of the civil rights movement. But again, the flow of the Beatitudes is important.
For instance, we do not take on these battles in our own strength, but only in recognition of our own emptiness, mourning our own lack of righteousness; and thereby submitting our power to God.
If you are touched/blessed with sorrow for your own failings (the second Beatitude), and with right relationships (the fourth Beatitude), you will not find it difficult to show mercy to people at work or anywhere else.
Mercy consists of treating people better than they deserve from us. Forgiveness is a type of mercy. So is aiding someone we have no obligation to help, or forbearing to exploit someone’s vulnerability. Mercy, in all these senses, is the driving force of Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection. Through him, our sins are forgiven and we receive aid by the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s reason for showing us this mercy is that God loves us. It’s all about love.
What is righteousness? (Matthew Ch17, V5-48) It is problematic to equate righteousness with external piety, a common understanding of the word “righteousness”, both now and in the past. But righteousness throughout the Bible always denotes right relationships, both with God and with the people around us. Jesus also asks us to approach our gifts with humility, taking care to remember whose we are and from whom those gifts are given to us.
This becomes clearer in illustrations that follow. In Matthew Chapter 5, verses 20-26, it is not enough to not murder someone; we must also guard our hearts and spirits against harboring anger that leads to insults and broken relationships. We may feel anger, but the right way to handle anger is to try to resolve conflict (Matthew Ch15, V19), not to push the person away with insults or slander. Jesus is clear that a right relationship between you and your brother or sister is so vital that some religious practices should be delayed until you have cleared up the matter between the two of you. Engaging in fair, open conflict resolution is the way of the New Kingdom, though it may put you in a position of humility. Humility is a teacher. And again, blessed are the peacemakers.
Rather than retribution, Jesus sets out a process by which one-on-one reconciliation is sought. The Beatitude of meekness means putting aside your self-justification long enough to express yourself respectfully and factually to the one who has hurt you, and to open yourself to their perspective. This does not mean submitting to further abuse, but opening yourself to the possibility that your perspective is not universal. If that doesn’t resolve it, you move on through the process Christ sets out, taking others with you, etc. Every step of the way, prayerful, mindful listening is key to our practice of love.
Servant leadership is addressed in Matthew Chapter 20, verses 20-28. True leadership is found in serving others. The servant is the one who knows his or her spiritual poverty (Matthew Ch5, V3), and exercises power under God’s control (Matthew Ch5, V5) to maintain right relationships. The servant leader apologizes for mistakes (Matthew Ch5, V4), shows mercy when others fail (Matthew Ch5, V7), makes peace when possible (Matthew Ch5, V9), and endures unmerited criticism when attempting to serve God (Matthew Ch5, V10) with integrity (Matthew Ch5, V8).
The principle/Beatitude of living in right relationship can apply to our relationship to God, with other people, with people, our relationship to our earth (God’s Creation), and our relationship with the practice of our faith, with the living out the tenets of our faith and in living out our Franciscan vocation. Let us move forward, transforming our lives by living in the fullness of right relationship.
- Can it be problematic to equate righteousness with external piety? Please explain.
- Identify an example from your life in which living righteously (in right relationship) enhanced your experience or your understanding of joy.
- Does living righteously present challenges for you? What are they?
Susan Tabor, Ofs.,
June 18, 2022