What Does it Mean to Thirst and Long For Righteousness?
Righteousness is defined as the quality of being morally right or justifiable. In Matthew 5:6 it says, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” In Judaism righteousness means “to acquit, vindicate, restore to a right relationship”(Freedman, 1996). How do we as Christians live out being morally right and justifiable to ourselves and to all people? Due to our misinterpretation of scripture we take this particular beatitude and relate it to social justice from the perspective that every person has a right to, or deserves, a certain amount of property. However, when the actual Judaic definition is understood we can see that righteousness is not providing someone with what they deserve but rather restoring them to a state which allows them to have a proper relationship with other people and with Jesus Christ. In other words, we are thirsting after righteousness so that we, and every one around us, can have the opportunity to have right relationships with other people and with God. However, in our society we misinterpret what it means to have justice and righteousness. One example of this would be social justice.
The idea of social justice seems great on the surface, but it is actually very detrimental to our society. There are some who use scripture to support the idea of income equality and redistribution. One of the Bible verses commonly used for support of social justice is Isaiah 61:8, which says “For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them”(The Holy Bible). God did not mean justice and righteousness from the perspective that we should take property from other people, but rather show righteousness and justice by meeting their needs and providing opportunities for them to work on their own. There are some that say that no one deserves to have some of the property that they own because they may have a high net worth. So they say that it is necessary to take from them and divide the property evenly among people who “need” it. If God meant justice and righteousness from the perspective of taking property from other people to give to someone else, then there is no free will involved. The correct interpretation of the relationship between righteousness and justice suggests that as Christians we are to meet the needs of people and provide opportunities for them to work on their own. If there is no incentive for them to work on their own all that we accomplish is creating more people dependent on what we provide to them. There has to be some sacrifice from both parties in order for real positive change to occur. Giving handouts to people does not provide them with an incentive to work. In Romans 5:1-5 it says “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”(The Holy Bible). All of us must go through suffering in this life. Suffering is not a bad thing as long as we encourage and help one another through the suffering. There is a sacrifice that must be made to be able to make positive changes in life. Even making the decision to follow Jesus Christ carries with it a responsibility to share the love of Christ with other people. That will bring some amount of suffering into our lives. It is still our choice. Even salvation itself is freely offered to us but it must be our choice to make the decision to follow Jesus.
According to Theology Of Work, the fourth beatitude, righteousness, in Judaism means to restore to right relationship (A Biblical Perspective on Faith and Work). There is a thirsting and longing in relationship to righteousness because it shows that there is some type of sacrifice necessary to achieve righteousness for ourselves and for others. It also means that we are to put personal action to our thirsting and longing for righteousness. As Christians it is our responsibility to restore righteousness by restoring the relationship of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible. In order to truly restore righteousness to people we need to show that issues of injustice are due to inadequacies in character and morality. The answer to the poor in the country for example, is not to give them more money, but to develop their character and morality, and then provide them with opportunities to achieve something on their own. This is a successful model because it does not create dependent people. It provides the opportunity for someone to change their current circumstances. For those who do not wish to change their current circumstances it is their choice. It is analogous to God offering us our salvation. If we do not want the salvation we are able to reject it, but we still have the opportunity to have it if we so desire it. The true purpose of righteousness is not providing someone with something that they deserve, but rather restoring the character and morality of an individual so that they can have a right relationship with Jesus Christ.
- David Noel Freedman, vol. 5, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996), 737.
- The Holy Bible, Matthew 5:6, Isaiah 61:8, Romans 5:1-5, (Zondervan Publishers)
- Stassen, Glen Harold, and David P. Gushee. “Justice.” Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2003. Print.
- "A Biblical Perspective on Faith and Work." "Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness, for They Will Be Filled" (Matthew 5:6). Web. 20 Jan. 2015. <http://www.theologyofwork.org/new-testament/matthew/the-kingdom-of-heaven-at-work-in-us-matthew-5-7/the-beatitudes-matthew-51-12/blessed-are-those-who-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness-for-they-will-be-filled-matthew-56/>.