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Sister Doreen’s Reflections

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Bread for myself is a physical question; bread for my neighbour is a spiritual question.
(Nikolai Berdyaev)

Just a reminder: Blessed, what does Jesus intend by using this paradoxical word?  In trying to understand the focus of the beatitudes I think that it is important to consider the meaning and the intent of this first word which we translate ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’.

  • In Greek the first word is MAKAROI – which helps us understand people enjoying a deep inner joy, a lasting spiritual experience, like the inner joy that continues to grow deeper as life experience grows. It is an experience of life at its best and a call to do something about it!  For example, perhaps a more real translation would be: get up, go ahead, and do something.  Move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice.  For you shall be satisfied.  Get up, go ahead, and move.  Take action, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.

As I said, most of us don’t know what to do with the beatitudes, but they sound like a beautiful and familiar poem, or a list that makes us feel guilty because we are not good enough, meek enough.  Upon pondering the beatitudes, I really think that Jesus is saying:  “If you feel you are living in a world where you don’t fit in, start creating a new, more loving world.  God and the kingdom of heaven are doing it with you.  Act like you belong to God’s kingdom.  Do something beautiful with God.”

Jesus didn’t say “blessed are those who campaign for or hope for righteousness”, but “blessed are people who hunger and thirst after righteousness, who want it urgently”.

I am reminded of the psalm, “the righteous shall flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon” (Psalm 92:12) – they are both trees with deep roots.  What do we need to be rooted in, so that we can urgently hunger and thirst after righteousness?  What form of knowing or seeing do we need, one that penetrates the surface structures of the world?  Pondering this, I am led to believe that gratefulness of heart is the ground or cause for the kind of seeing and knowing that this beatitude gifts to us. Someone who is grounded in gratefulness begins to see the world and everyone and everything in it for what it is – God’s gift, constantly creating itself in love for each and everything in the world. The beatitudes encourage us into gratitude, invites us not to be trapped by circumstances, but to look for the grace, to find the possibilities, to explore the edges for growth.

It is from this passionate longing that we are called to get up, to go ahead, and to do something – almost like saying “Move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice”.  Poverty, grief, my rights, rejection, or persecution in Jesus’ upside-down world of the Beatitudes sees these conditions as gifts or favours – opportunities from which to make a positive difference in the lives of others and the world. It moves us to have an open heart, to be vulnerable.  I really believe that this is one of the beatitudes that most encourages us to look at life through the lens of gratitude, to appreciate the small things, to take nothing for granted.

 In a very real sense, whoever hungers and thirsts for justice, for righteousness, recognizes their very deep need to share in God’s forgiving love.  This Beatitude highlights the understanding that the Christian life is less about our ideas about God than how we live with those around us.  It is a call to see and respond to the real world with all its hunger, pain, fear, and bloodstains – to be a rescuer, to protect the defenseless, to participate in God’s righteousness here and now.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” In the gospel according to St. Matthew, Matthew uses the word dikaiosyne or justice in such a way that we are to hunger and thirst for God’s life, saving power, and care for us – and that we are never to be satisfied until we experience this.  It means to ask for justice in prayer, to seek the power of justice in our reflections, and to keep on knocking – keep on doing our little bit of good – until we have opened for us and for others an ever-deepening experience and understanding of the liberating presence of God-with-us.

This Beatitude has within it the challenge of having everything we want and wanting nothing wrongly, and is connected with the righteousness of God’s kingdom being enabled here on earth.  And it is because we hope in God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth and a new heart for ourselves that we have an urgent longing for harmony between the love of God and ourselves and our world.  It is mercy and truth that meets together, righteousness and peace that kiss each other.  This is the justice – the dikaiosyne that Matthew is talking about in this Beatitude, a life in unity with God, a life of mercy, a life transformed by love.

I would like to close this reflection by quoting Simon Tugwell in his book The Beatitudes: Soundings in Christian Traditions wrote:

“ The emptiness established by poverty and meekness is an emptiness that paves the way for us to learn how to be dependent for our fullness on another, on God, and it is when that emptiness learns how to yearn, how to hunger and thirst, that it begins to move towards that blessedness which is pronounced upon it.  But it must also learn to wait, to wait upon the gift that it desires.

Blessed are those who let themselves hunger and thirst, accepting no substitute for what they truly want, letting all that they are given serve only to whet their appetites for more.  They truly are the ones to whom God will come to them in all God’s fullness.

The gift which God makes to us in this life is known chiefly in the increase of our desire for God.  And that desire, being love, is infinite, and so stretches our life to its limits.  And that stretching is our most earnest joy, and also our most earnest suffering in this life.”

If we can understand that it is our places to do our little bit of good – to long for mercy and truth to meet together and for righteousness and peace to kiss each other – to long for the time when Jesus words come true for the whole world “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly”.  It is this, a life in unity with God, a life of mercy, a life transformed by love, as it deepens over the years of our experiences: it is this gift given to us, this longing which brings us to that place … for they shall be satisfied and for this I shall be grateful.

And so we sing:

Goodness is stronger than evil
Love is stronger than hate
Light is stronger than darkness
Life is stronger than death
Victory is ours , victory is ours,
through God who loves us.
(Desmond Tutu)