U2’s classic song repeats, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” We can relate to the rhythmic chorus because many of us often feel that way. Not only do we have a sense that we are not there yet, but often we are unsure of where we are going or even what we hope to find once we get there.
The search for personal satisfaction and personal spirituality can get in the way of more comprehensive goals. I’ve often said “I’m trying to figure out who I am,” but just as often exclaimed, “I wish I knew what I was looking for.” One guy that seemed to be sure what he was after was Martin Luther King Jr. He was one person who seemed to be sure about his purpose.
One of the things that King talked about a lot was justice. He once said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tensions, it is the presence of justice.” I think that is just brilliant! I don’t even want to explain it because I’m afraid I would diminish it. He also said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Again, perfectly understandable and hard to argue with — it’s just true and easy to see what drove him to keep going. King also understood that things like justice take time to come to fruition. He stated, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” At first glance, this doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the 4th beatitude.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)
The Greek word, dikaiosyne, actually has a dual meaning: righteousness (which deals with our individual spirituality) and justice (which deals with setting things right in the world). As Brian Zahnd describes in his book, Beauty Will Save the World, this word helps us understand that God in not just interested in our spiritual condition, but also our social arrangements. Some literal interpretations of the word are “the state of man as he ought to be” and “the condition acceptable to God.” Some early writers stressed that the word includes, “right conduct toward men and piety toward God.” Maybe the clearest interpretation and the inclination to use the word justice is one interpretation, “the virtue which give each one his due.”
It is important that we recognize the importance of justice. My mother taught me to recognize the unfairness of the world. I think that is a good building block to equip us to face the world, understanding that life is unfair. But, I was also blessed with a wife and 3 children that went beyond this acceptance of injustice. In a way, they couldn’t accept it. Like MLK and Jesus, they were never satisfied with that injustice. They hungered and thirsted (longed) for each person in the world to be given their due. They were amazingly fixed on the notion that justice is possible in the world. This kind of person just seems to want it a little more.
We also see this in the life and words of Jesus. He didn’t criticize the poor–He reached down and lifted them up. He encouraged the more fortunate to look on others with compassion, not contempt. His concern certainly reached far beyond just that which affected Him personally. This beatitude stresses that thinking and working toward justice is not a fruitless endeavor. Righteousness and Justice are part of the same package. I don’t pretend to understand that fully – but, somehow I know it’s true.
I’m trying to allow myself to long for righteousness AND justice. For me, that means longing for something that I have to trust God for. It is hoping for something I can’t see the solutions to. Often, those are issues that seem unsolvable like: gun issues, immigration, racism, child hunger and other inequalities. Jesus said he would satisfy that longing! Even though I don’t understand how He will satisfy the thirst, I simply trust that He will! Like Martin Luther King Jr., I just have to stay hungry and not give up!
I remember various football coaches screaming at me to try harder. But, it is the way they did it that was interesting. They would say “Do you want it?” Then, “How bad do you want it?” Then, they’d talk to each other, “I don’t think he wants it — doesn’t look like he wants it!” It’s was kind of like a mild form of abuse, but it was usually effective. To most casual observers, it probably doesn’t appear that we really care that much about justice for all. We give up too easily. Like my football coaches, I have to wonder, “Do we want it?”–“Do we really want it?”–“It doesn’t look like we want it!”
When we care about the things that matter, Jesus satisfies us in ways that are hard to explain and hard to quantify.
When I look at the life of Jesus, I notice that He suffered injustice personally. How fair is it that the most moral man ever suffered as much as anyone ever has? How just is it that He most often did not receive the respect He deserved or the treatment that was appropriate His standing? He did exactly what the Father said and yet usually was mistreated, misunderstood and misrepresented. He certainly longed for justice and taught that justice was desirable and worthy of pursuit. It seems that through His personal journey of injustice, He was able to obtain justice for all of us (He set the world right) — He was satisfied, in a way! King shows a similar pattern–he suffered and was killed which helped bring justice to many.
Maybe – that’s a good lesson or us. Personal satisfaction and personal justice may need to be sacrificed or delayed for the pursuit of justice for a larger group. Maybe, that is the satisfaction this beatitude is talking about.
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