Blessed are the hungry and the thirsty. Having tasted the comfort of the Comforter, we hunger and thirst for more. The forth rung of the ladder of the Beatitudes moves from the meekness that comes from mourning to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Our life is never static. To stand still, or to imagine we are standing still, is to slip into despondency (“what’s the use?”) or complacency (“I already have enough; I’ve already done enough”). The blessings of Grace lead us to longing for more, not to satisfaction.
The third rung of the ladder of the Beatitudes, the comfort that comes to those who mourn, is quite a slippery rung (Barbara made this comment on yesterday’s blog). It is slippery because we want to leave our poverty and mourning behind us. We want to take possession of meekness as if it were a bicycle that we could lock up in our garage: “Now that I’m meek….” But meekness is not a possession, it is a fruit. Meekness is produced by the contrite and broken heart of the poor. And these poor are the ones to whom the Holy Spirit comes as the Comforter. But having been comforted, having experienced a little success in our spiritual lives or a little prosperity in our temporal circumstances, we are tempted to say to God, “Thank you very much, I’ll take it from here.”
When this happens we fall into a worse condition than from which we began. It is worse because we no longer see ourselves as poor, and the very weaknesses and sins that revealed our poverty to us before have lost their power to do so again. It is like we have been inoculated. Jesus likens it to a dog returning to its vomit; or a pig, having been washed, returning to wallow in the mire. Satiety is our enemy.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. The mourning of penthos must transform into different kind of inner pain: the pain of hunger and thirst. Some of the Fathers of the Church have called this hunger divine longing, divine eros. Those who experience the Grace of God hunger and thirst for more. There is a parallel in the world of education. It is often said that the more one knows, the more one knows how much he doesn’t know. The same is true for one’s relationship with God. To know God a little is to know so much more than before how little you know God. To love God a little is to know how little you love God. To experience just the smallest amount of God’s Grace and the comfort of the Holy Spirit is to know how little I am by myself and how very willing God is to fill me with His Greatness.
Righteousness is an interesting word. It has almost no meaning nowadays outside of a religious context; and, unfortunately, in a religious context it has taken on so much baggage that as a word in English, it has very little practical use. Righteousness is a relational word. It describes a right relationship, a right relationship with God and a right relationship with one another (that’s the “right” part of righteousness). Under the Old Covenant (the Law), righteousness had to do with keeping the obligations of a covenantal relationship. In the Psalms and the Prophets, the meaning of righteousness becomes deeper than just the observance of obligations but is extended to mean both God’s faithfulness to love mankind despite his people’s failure to remain loyal to Him and the faithful trust in God of the poor, those who have suffered because they did not receive the righteousness (justice) that was due them. In the New Testament, righteousness is the life of Christ and the life of those who are born of Him. Under the New Covenant, righteousness is both a commandment to love God and neighbor and a gift of God’s Grace.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness realize that the Grace to keep the commandments of righteousness is a gift. I cannot make myself righteous (although I can do things that make me appear righteous before others and in my own eyes). And yet, I have an important part to play. Those who are hungry and thirsty look for food and drink, even if they are unable to manufacture it themselves. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness look for chances to do right. They look for opportunities to give in anonymity. They look for places and times and ways to pray in secret. They notice when a judgmental thought comes to their minds and they quietly ignore it. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness begin to see opportunities that they hadn’t seen before, opportunities to loan without expecting any return, to go the extra mile and even to turn the other cheek. And finding these opportunities is the promise of Jesus, for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled.