Articles From the July 1995 Unification News
Seeking God's Love, Life, and Lineage
This is the first in a series of three articles reprinted from Joymakers, chapter 6: The Fourth Beatitude: Seeking God's Love, Life, and Lineage
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Both the first and fourth Beatitudes refer to our inner desires and aspirations. The first Beatitude focuses on "the poor in spirit," who recognize that they are sinful and hunger after God's love, truth, and blessings. Those in the fourth Beatitude realize that they need a transformation of their inner being in order to become righteous people, people of good character and Godly love.
Personal and Public Righteousness
God is the source and measure of righteousness. He is morally perfect and His rule is based on righteousness. The Psalmist says of God, "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of thy throne" (Ps. 89:14). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains God's righteousness as His rectitude and His fairness. With His penetratingly deep understanding of motivation and heart, God carries out His justice. All good human traditions and laws derive from God's righteousness.
How does the righteous God look upon this sinful world? "But let justice roll down like waters," God declares, "and righteousness like an everflowing stream" (Amos 5:24). The Old Testament prophets proclaim God's wrath and judgment upon an unrighteous people. After exposing the ethical and moral corruption of Israel and the prevalence of oppression, violence, idolatry, and empty religiosity, Amos pronounces both God's warning, "Prepare to meet your God" (4:12), and God's invitation, "Seek me and live" (5:4).
The biblical view of righteousness goes beyond justice and judgment to include love and forgiveness. The same verse that describes righteousness as the foundation of God's throne concludes: "steadfast love and faithfulness go before thee" (Ps. 89:14). The Psalmist further testifies: "The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" (Ps. 145:8). All God's actions stem from love, for God is love (1 John 4:8). God is always willing to sacrifice Himself and that which is most precious to Him for the benefit of the whole. Jesus says that God gave His only son so that we might have eternal life (John 3:16). God is utterly unselfish and lives, breathes, moves, and acts solely for the well-being of others, with the love and devotion exemplified in Jesus' description of the good shepherd (John 10:11-15).
Through His righteousness, God carries out His will and bestows grace, mercy, and salvation; so God's plan of salvation comes from God's righteousness. It is through God's grace, according to Augustine, that God makes people righteous. Paul writes that in God's "divine forbearance" He passes over our former sins and justifies those who have faith, because of His righteousness (Rom. 3:21-26). Christ's death for us while we were yet sinners is an expression of God's love and the basis for our justification (Rom. 5:6-9).
God considers people righteous based on their faith. Abraham was counted righteous because of his faith (Rom. 4:3). Faith brings knowledge of God's righteousness (Rom. 1:17). An encounter with God's righteousness and holiness makes us aware of our sin, as the prophet Isaiah experienced in his vision of God's throne (Is. 6:1-5). When we confess our sin, God, because He is faithful and just, forgives our sin and cleanses us of our unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). On the deepest level, we as fallen people cannot bridge the chasm between us and God's righteousness. This can only be done through the sacrifice of Christ. Moreover, God's holiness demands punishment for sin and elimination of sin. In his pure sacrifice on the cross, Jesus satisfied the requirements of God's justice, and God cancels the sin of those who believe on Jesus. (Rom 3:25).
In light of God's righteousness, what is the righteousness Jesus calls for in the Sermon on the Mount? Matthew placed special emphasis on righteousness, including far more references (16) to righteousness and righteous people than the other Evangelists (10 altogether). Matthew's fourth Beatitude is addressed to "those who hunger and thirst for righteousness," while Luke 6:21 reads simply, "Blessed are you that hunger now." Jesus' statement in the Sermon on the Mount about kingdom priority reads: "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well" (6:33), while Luke records merely, "seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well" (12:31). Righteousness is a major theme of the Sermon on the Mount.
The Greek word dikaiosune, translated as righteousness, involves both rectitude before God and right relationships among people. Right relationships among people result in the expansion of righteousness in the world, as people of honesty and courage work to promote justice and moral values in society. Thus there are two kinds of righteousness: (1) external, public righteousness, justitia externa, meaning to practice righteousness in human relationships and to work for the advancement of righteousness in the world at large; and (2) internal, personal righteous, justitia interna, meaning integrity, moral rectitude, and purity of heart before God.2 There have been many movements for social justice in this world. However, without tackling the problems of internal corruption and lack of integrity, promises of external reforms inevitably lead to disappointment. Thus, external, public righteousness needs to come on the foundation of internal, personal righteousness.
Here in the fourth Beatitude, we are called to a standard of personal righteousness through believing in Christ and receiving his saving love and grace. In the eighth Beatitude, which emphasizes public righteousness, we will see how Jesus calls us to become creators of righteousness, working to spread righteousness.
When righteous and righteousness are used in an internal, ethical sense, the terms mean uprightness. Righteous people are characterized by honesty, integrity, and dignity. Jesus describes righteous people as those who follow the ways of God, trying to embody God's sacrificial true love, and become substantially connected to God. Righteous people set the proper priority: their relationship with God. Rather than anxiously seeking food and drink to satisfy our physical hunger and thirst, let us remember Jesus' promise that God knows and can satisfy our true needs and that when we seek first God's kingdom and His righteousness, "all these things shall be yours as well" (Matt. 6:33).
People who focus on appearing to be good have difficulty responding to Jesus' call to a right relationship to God based on believing in him and following him. The Pharisees, who seek to be righteous by following the law, are appalled when Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus explains, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matt. 9:13). By repenting and following Jesus, sinners become truly righteous before God. Jesus' parable of the lost sheep has a similar meaning: "I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:7). Here Jesus is not saying that there are people who need no repentance, but that there are people who do not even realize that they are lost. The self-righteous people, such as the scribes and Pharisees in his audience, are not aware of their separation from God and have not begun to see their need for repentance.
The scribes and Pharisees emphasize only the trappings of a religious life, and even this is done for the wrong motivation. They pray and fast and give alms to the poor-in order to gain public praise; and Jesus exposes their hypocrisy (Matt. 23:1-30). He calls us to go beyond the level of righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20) and fulfill the law with a new standard of heart and feeling that is on a par with God's. Rather than promoting external religiosity, Jesus upholds a righteous realm of internal purity and sincerity and asks us to nurture our relationship with God-with the assurance that He who sees in secret will reward our sincerity (Matt. 6:4).
Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
To hunger and thirst after righteousness implies a double discomfort, a compound need, an emphatic, doubled-edged longing. J. Boice said that the meaning of being hungry is to experience a desperate, frantic desire, almost unto death, to go back to God and His will.3 When thirst is added to hunger, the craving is even more pressing. Isaiah voices God's invitation to slake our thirst with His word: "Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the waters" (Is. 55:1). Matthew deliberately uses these physical needs for food and drink to symbolize a metaphysical need. The spirit of the text is the same as in Romans 3:10-11, where Paul's repetition makes for poignant emphasis: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God."
In this fallen world, Satan woos us with material things and many substitutes for true love, enticing us constantly to follow our selfish desires in hopes of feeling loved and satisfied. But the result, sooner or later, is always emptiness and dissatisfaction. Satan has polluted, distorted, and corrupted God's love and life, which are the only source of true and lasting fulfillment. As a result, we have a profound spiritual emptiness.
Being hungry and thirsty relates to being poor in spirit, meaning to be empty, like a jar or vase, ready to receive Jesus. The poor in spirit of the first Beatitude know that they have been in error and need love and truth. However, in this fourth Beatitude we are hungering and thirsting to make righteousness real in our life. We long to become righteous; we want to live in righteous surroundings. To be poor in spirit means to beg humbly for God's guidance, love, truth, and a righteous life; it is but a beginning point which leads to repentance. To hunger and thirst after righteousness means a total engagement of our inner being in a desperate quest to live in the right way. How shall we be satisfied?
When Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well, she offers Jesus fresh water to quench his physical thirst. Then Jesus offers her living water: "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14). Jesus calls us from our broken cisterns to the living fountain, that we may never more thirst. He offers to slake both thirst and hunger:
I am the living bread which came down from heaven.... he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.... he who eats this bread will live for ever. (John 6:51, 54-58).
Jesus possesses the essential elements which can eternally satisfy our inner void if only we are ready to receive them. Those who recognize their inner hunger and thirst can receive Jesus' invitation to eat and drink.
On the eve of his death, Jesus encourages the disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood, symbolized by the bread and wine (Matt. 26:26-28). This sacrament is a mysterious ceremony, even to this day. We take communion in order to become one body with Jesus, to receive the total merit of this son of God, and to be able to stand in his light, washed in his image-so that we too may be accounted righteous.
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