Today: Saturday, December 07, 2019

Beatitudes #4: Blessed are those who seek righteousness    (8/10/2008 )

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Before we get started, let's remember that righteousness is quite a different thing from self-righteousness! Self-righteousness is unpleasant: it implies excessive moralising, bigotry, and pomposity. The self-righteous think they're perfect, and no one else ever measures up.

Righteousness, on the other hand, is about understanding that we're not perfect—it's about living up to God's standards, not our own. Righteousness means living a life which mirrors Jesus', and being free from sin. Now, before you say ‘But that's not possible!', you are, of course, quite right. But this, the fourth beatitude spoken by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, doesn't ask us to achieve that. It simply asks us to hunger and thirst for it: in other words, to long for it and actively seek it.

The precise nature of the reward, the resulting blessing (to be ‘filled' with righteousness), seems to me to come in two parts. One is a gradual filling, here on earth, and the second is the fulfilment for eternity in God's presence in heaven. So how can we receive this blessing?

The first part of the blessing requires us to model ourselves on God (if only God is perfect and sinless, then only he can be our example!). We can start by understanding what he has told us throughout history, by reading the Bible, and by listening to what he tells us today through prayer and through the work of his Holy Spirit. This will also help us to understand what sin is (and therefore how to try and avoid it), and hopefully bring us into relationship with God.

However, as we've said, we can never achieve righteousness in this life or in our own strength. Indeed, realising this will bring us to the very meekness and poverty of spirit which Jesus mentions in earlier beatitudes. However, God knows when a heart longs for him and wants to do the right thing—even if we mess up, often. It's the (genuine) thought that counts.

But let us be clear about one thing. Sitting around waiting to get holier isn't going to be enough! Christians are called to be like Jesus, and to represent him in the world. Did Jesus spend all day in lonely contemplation? No—he kept pretty busy. Did he sit around feeling holy? Well, probably sometimes—but then he had every right to! But he was also out there telling people about God; using his miraculous power to help them; challenging what was wrong in both ‘religion' and society; and demanding social action. So righteousness is also partly fulfilled by continuing Jesus' work here on earth.

The second part of the blessing—the promise of perfection in heaven—is achieved by placing our trust in God, and understanding that only Jesus is the way to salvation. Knowing and loving God, and starting to understand what he has done for us, will make us want to please him: we won't be able to help ourselves. It will make us hunger and thirst for righteousness, and God will indeed pour out every blessing, and wipe away every tear.

Pray: Oh God, so often I am self-righteous even as I criticise it in others! Help me to set my eyes on you, instead. Amen.

Think about: Without food and water in this life, we die. And without righteousness, we die to the next life. Jesus' use of the words 'hunger and thirst' therefore seem to reflect the seriousness of his message. Why do you think it matters so much to God that we strive for righteousness on earth, and that we become able to receive it in heaven?

Challenge: Be honest. What sort of things do you get self-righteous about? The danger is in putting ourselves on a pedestal while judging others. Over the coming weeks, every time you begin to feel self-righteous (and we all do it...), stop yourself in time, and say a prayer instead. Pray for that other person and for yourself, and ask for God's will in the situation. It'll save frustration, anger and bitterness... and lead to greater righteousness!

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