Saturday, May 23, 2020

Views From the Ground Floor, Part V: Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.

The word hunger here surely means a strong desire or craving. Hunger always relates to a craving for solid food, that is, that which is material.

The thirst here is, of course, a reference to water: in this case, we can understand water as being referent to emotion or feeling.

Together the two phrases tell us that if we have a physical and emotional craving for righteousness, it will lawfully be answered. (They shall be filled.)

Yet what does it mean to be righteous?

The word is originally an English word meaning to be in a right state or proper condition. It has a rightness to it. Given the preceding passages about authority and obedience (blessed are the poor) suffering (those who mourn), and meekness (attitude) we must infer without a doubt that hunger and thirst for righteousness is meant to refer to the embodiment of these three previously mentioned qualities.

The idea of the holy Trinity of the physical, emotional, and intellectual character of creation is built into the first three passages as well as into the intricacies of their specific references. The first passage is a passage about the physical, that is, man's place in creation. The second one is about emotion (mourning and suffering) and the third one is about intelligence (meekness).

Taken together, to be righteous means to know our place and obey, to suffer and grow, and to exercise our intelligence in relation to others. We need to have a wish to do these things; they don't just happen by themselves.

So this particular verse is about agency, that is, in what way we take spiritual initiative.

The passage indicates that if we take spiritual initiative, if we engage in the agency of relationship, it is lawful that our wish will be fulfilled: that is, things will be put in their right order. We will find ourselves in heaven (right relationship); we will grow through suffering; the roots of our being will plant them selves firmly in our lives. This is according to law, not according to the whim of a random universe. It is, in other words, a more realistic and lawfully conformable expression of the idea that everything happens for a reason. A more rightful interpretation of this traditional folk saying is, everything takes place according to law. This sense, Christ's promise is that obedience to law will always yield right results. It’s God’s promise to us.

Another important teaching embedded in this brief couplet reminds us of the traditional idea that the spiritual being is a body onto itself that also needs to be fed. This tradition, of course, is most deeply embedded in the Christian rite of Holy Communion; just as the physical body needs physical food to survive, so does the spiritual body. If it's properly fed, then it grows into righteousness – a right relationship with God and society. If it isn't, its starves and sickens and can even die.

Our hungers and thirsts in life should be first spiritual and then physical, not the other way around. If we do not first crave goodness, we will err.

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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