“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice/righteousness, for they shall be filled/satisfied.”
μακάριοι οἱ πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην, ὅτι αὐτοὶ χορτασθήσονται.
(No attempt to expand my notes into something more readable. The audio file is much better.)
What do you desire? What do you long for? Wealth? Recognition? A happy marriage? Successful children? These are all good, and rightly do you desire these things. But today’s Beatitude calls blessed those who desire something that is not solely for their own benefit. The beatitude asks us to look beyond our own desires and hunger and thirst for something that goes beyond us. This something is δικαιοσύνη, justice/righteousness. Both translations are good. But righteousness does strike a more personal note; whereas justice seems to be a more universal concern.
What is justice? St. Gregory of Nyssa asks when he comes to this part of the Beatitudes. He decides to explain it, “for only when its beauty has been shown can the desire for this lovely thing be roused in us.” Gregory starts with the everyday meaning of fairness in human dealings, law and government, but then spends several pages dancing around the question that he himself posed and actually spends most of his effort talking about hunger and thirst. And this is right, because Jesus uses language we can relate to. When you’re hungry and thirsty….
Finally Gregory comes to what he really wants to say:
If we would venture on a bolder interpretation, it seems to me that through the ideas of virtue and justice the Lord proposes himself to the desire of his hearers. For he became for us wisdom from God, justification, sanctification and redemption (quoting 1 Cor 1:30, ὃς ἐγενήθη σοφία ἡμῖν ἀπὸ θεοῦ, δικαιοσύνη τε καὶ ἁγιασμὸς καὶ ἀπολύτρωσις), but also bread descending from heaven and living water.
He quotes psalms of David in their Greek versions: “My soul has thirsted for the living God. When shall I come and appear before the face of God?” and “I will appear before your sight in justice. I shall be satisfied when your glory shall appear.” This glory, Gregory says, is God the Word himself!
I like the way he finishes. It’s always a blessed thing to contemplate the centrality of Christ in our thoughts and desires. Indeed, we do hunger and thirst for him who is our justice, our righteousness. But with Jesus we look beyond our own interests and needs. With Jesus as our justice and righteousness we see others as we see ourselves.
I begin to notice something interesting in the beatitudes:
Couplets, and this is how Gregory of Nyssa paired the first four!
poor in spirit … meek
mourn … hunger/thirst
Though Gregory does not see a rhetorical device, I do. Poor in spirit. Then those who mourn. Then meek to reassert the poor in spirit. Then the hunger and thirst to reassert the mourning.
Then, two more couplets that express the working out of the first four beatitudes:
merciful … pure in heart
peacemakers … persecuted!
Those who are poor in spirit and meek will be merciful and pure in heart.
Those who mourn will be peacemakers.
Those who hunger and thirst for justice will be persecuted because of justice!
And to drive message home, Jesus puts himself as the reason for persecution. If you’re going to be attacked or hated, be for the sake of Christ. No better reason!