Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. -Jamie McCormick
April 1st, 2015 | John Chandler
In Dare to be Creative, Madeleine L’Engle shares this anecdote, which I feel like neatly sums up my assumptions about righteousness.
One time I was in the kitchen drinking tea with my husband and our young son, and they got into an argument about ice hockey. I do not feel passionate about ice hockey. They do. Finally our son said. “But Daddy, you don’t understand.” And my husband said, reasonably, “It’s not that I don’t understand, Bion. It’s just that I don’t agree with you.”
To which the little boy replied hotly, “If you don’t agree with me, you don’t understand.”
I think we all feel that way, but it takes a child to admit it.
There are a lot of things that we do and say because we believe it’s “the right thing.” What to wear, where to live, where to work, what music to listen to, what restaurants to patron. It’s not just hockey that we fight about. People get mad — like, really mad — over TV shows. And don’t even get me started internet commenters.
Our modern (or maybe not so modern) interpretation of righteousness sometimes feels more like we’re turning away from each other and less like we’re turning to God. Sometimes, don’t you just think, “maybe we’re missing the point?” This is righteousness? #thanksbutnothanks
I looked up the word righteous on dictionary.com. For your reference, I’ve included the definition and my immediate reaction in parentheses.
- characterized by uprightness or morality: a righteous observance of the law.
- morally right or justifiable: righteous indignation.
- acting in an upright, moral way; virtuous: a righteous and godly person.
- Slang. absolutely genuine or wonderful
I looked up the word “righteousness” for Matthew 5:6 in Strong’s Concordance next, and here’s what I found.
justice, justness, righteousness, righteousness of which God is the source or author, but practically: a divine righteousness
I read the words over and over to myself: Justice. Justness. Divine. God is the source or author. How is that this text has been around for thousands of years, and somehow (nearly) all of our dictionary definitions point to a dependence on self rather than God?
I suppose it’s obvious — I’m pretty sure the whole Old Testament points us to the need for a Savior. And when Jesus died on the cross he made it clear that we needed him. But somehow, all this time, I think I’ve been equating righteousness with “rightness.” But I can get behind this kind of righteousness that doesn’t rely on me, or you, or anyone for success, but is created and sustained through a just and merciful God. Frankly, I’m relieved because it does not appear we are making any headway in figuring out what the right thing is.
Back to Matthew 5:6. It’s pretty cool that Jesus uses the words “hunger and thirst” here, because we continually require nourishment. I know that because I’ve filled approximately a dozen sippy cups today and made it rain graham crackers and blueberries. Just for two toddlers. But anyway, I think his hope for righteousness was that our appetite for his goodness would be ever-present, that we would continually turn to him knowing our own neediness. Here’s how Martin Luther says it (you know, I just asked him):
“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”
We can expectantly return to the table, over and over.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
(Psalm 51, Psalm of David, after he took with Bathsheba)