Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

Here’s the full audio of Pastor Michael’s sermon from October 15, 2017, reflecting on the fourth Beatitude in the Sermon on the Mount:

And here’s a written excerpt, looking at what Jesus meant by “righteousness”:

“Righteousness” is not a regular, ordinary word for us. It’s a religious word, a theological word, one of those “churchy,” “Christianese” words. We don’t normally go around talking about people being “righteous” or talking about so-and-so’s “righteousness” in our everyday speech.

When we do talk about “righteousness,” in a religious or Christian sense, we tend to mean some kind of personal quality, like “goodness.” Or, we might talk about “righteousness” as “being in right relationship” with God. These ideas are both true, but the problem is that they have become too narrow—like so much of historic, biblical Christianity, we have individualized and privatized our faith.

For many Christians, “righteousness” has become a purely individual quality, a kind of personal morality separate from public ethics. For many Christians, “being in right relationship” with God has little if anything to do with being in right relationship with everyone else. But these are not the biblical idea of “righteousness.”

In the Bible, “righteousness” covers everything from “doing the right thing” to “making things right.” It never means “being right,” as in, “having the correct opinion.” That’s worth pondering. Rather, in the Bible, “righteousness” refers to “doing the right thing,” or “making things right.”

And in the Bible what is “right” is always defined within a relationship.

God is “righteous” in relation to us when God is faithful to the covenant relationship God has made with us: providing for our most essential needs, forgiving our darkest sins, saving us from our worst enemies.

We experience God’s “righteousness,” then, when God does right by us, or makes things right for us: meeting those needs that have been lacking, forgiving those sins that have been chaining us down, saving us from those enemies that have been hounding and harassing us.

We are “righteous” in relation to others when we are living in a way that helps those relationships to flourish: seeking harmony with them, seeking their welfare, seeking the common good.

We experience the “righteousness” of each other, then, when we do right by each other, or we make things right between us: removing any barriers to relationship, looking out for the interests of each other, striving for what is best for us together.

All this explains why “righteousness” language in the Bible is so often used as a synonym for “justice”—just like it is here, in this fourth Beatitude.

When Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” he’s talking about the vulnerable who have been unjustly treated and who yearn for justice deep in their bones. And he’s talking about all those who yearn for this justice with them—and do what they can to bring it about.

So the question turns back to us: Who needs justice in our world? Who among us or around us is longing for righteousness? Who is most hungering and thirsting for their world to be made right again?

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