Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Justice

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Justice October 31, 2023

A. Davey: Dagfinn Werenskiold — They Who Hunger And Thirst / flickr

Jesus commends those who seek for justice (δῐκαιοσῠ́νη, often translated as righteousness), saying that they will be satisfied. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6 RSV). They hunger thirst for justice, that is, not for any sort of righteousness, but the righteousness associated with the justice of God. It is a righteous justice they desire, and they find it is satisfied in and through Jesus. Jesus embraces restorative justice and works to make sure all those who suffered injustice are healed and those who gained from injustice give back what they unjustly took. While we can and should wish for this to happen in time, we must realize the ultimate realization of justice will be in the eschatological kingdom of God. This does not mean we should ignore injustices as the present themselves before us today; if we did that, that would show we do not hunger or thirst for it.  Instead, we should pursue it throughout are entire lives, constantly doing what we can to make things better in the world:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.” It does not suffice for us to want justice, if we do not experience a hunger for justice. Thus from this example we should understand that we are never sufficiently just, but it is always necessary to hunger for works of justice. [1]

How can we pursue such justice in the world when we not know what such justice is? Our thirst for justice must make us act, but it must also make us desire to know what true justice is, as St. Caesarius of Arles indicated:

Among the other beatitudes which our Lord and Saviour deigned to mention in the Gospel He added this one, saying: ‘Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.’ Blessed are those to whom God has been pleased to grant this remarkable hunger and desirable thirst. But how does one hunger after justice, brethren? We hunger after justice if we are willing to hear the word of God with patience and love, for of such food it has been said: ‘They that eat me yet hunger; and they that drink me yet thirst.” For, although action is better than the possession of knowledge, it is necessary to know before acting; one must know what he wishes to accomplish.[2]

When engaging justice, we must be patient and bear all things with love. Indeed, justice without love, without mercy, will not be true justice; instead, it is an unbearable legalistic similitude of it. This is why, for Christians, studying Scripture is important, because Scripture gives multiple examples of how such legalistic notions of justice are wrong. Scripture indicates true justice must be centered upon and connected with love (charity). Certainly, it is possible for someone to discern this without recourse to Scripture, but Scripture highlights it, and the more Christians engage Scripture, the more it will be reinforced in their mind that they have to avoid a legalistic understanding of justice and righteousness. They will understand that true justice entails love and all the expectations which come out of love, such as loving our neighbor, especially if their neighbor is someone who is unjustly marginalized and in great personal need. That is, the more Christians discern that love is the key, the more their thirst for justice should take them to work for the rights of everyone:

It is sufficient for such a merely formal equity that each man defends his rights. But if I defend only my own it shows that I am not concerned for the rights as such but only because they are mine: that is, I am defending myself, my own interests. And if everyone stands up only for himself and what is his, common rights and social equity are nothing more than an abstract notion, justice becomes simply the theoretical balance of various, particular forces. Now in fact our idea of justice goes beyond this abstraction; we have a lively moral perception of it which radically modifies the principle and quality of our actions; it causes us to defend the person and rights of others as well as of ourself. And then it becomes clear that right and equity are in themselves worth something to us. [3]

Those who embrace some sort of injustice because of the immediate gain they feel it gives to them will find that it will not satisfy them forever; and, once it no longer satisfies, they will still have to face the consequences of their actions. Much of what they did to others will be reflected back upon them. And, due to their lack of mercy, their lack of love, until they change and embrace mercy and love, they will not have the grace which they need to help them overcome the consequences of their actions. “But you who love injustices, keep this admonition in mind, so that you may know that your avariciousness longing for wealth is idolatry, and that it separates you from the angelic orders, that is, from spiritual people, just as the idol of deceit is separated from the true God.”[4]

It is important for us to pursue justice, to desire it, to thirst for it, not just for ourselves, but for everyone. It is important we don’t merely ponder and reflect upon the notion of justice, that is, pursue an intellectual understanding of it, if we are not willing to engage it:

He seeks rightly who does not so do in mere words, but in deeds. For thus God is sought: through justice God is sought, so that through temperance, he is found; through courage and sound thinking God is sought, so that he may be comprehended; through wisdom God is sought so that God may be found by the one seeking with wisdom. [5]

The more we pursue justice in the world, making sure we do so with mercy and grace, the more we will find we will be satisfied in the eschatological kingdom of God. This does not mean there will be no justice in the world, that is, it does not mean we will not find any satisfaction in it in our lives. While the fullness of the eschatological kingdom of God, the eschaton, is not yet, nonetheless, the incarnation is the immanent eschaton: Jesus shares grace with the whole of creation, giving it the means to participate in an experience of the eschatological kingdom of God in an anticipatory way. The world can change and be made better, even if it will not become a utopia. We should embrace the eschatological graces brought into the world thanks to the incarnation. With our hunger and thirst for justice, we should pursue it to the end of our days, never giving up, even if it seems like it is far from us our fleeting. For then it will be a true hunger and thirst for justice, and Jesus’ blessing will be upon us.


[1] St. Jerome, Commentary on Matthew. Trans. Thomas P. Scheck (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2008), 76.

[2] St. Caesarius of Arles, Sermons Volume I (1-80). Trans. Mary Magdeleine Mueller, OSF (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1956), 28 [Sermon 4].

[3] Vladimir Solovyey, God, Man & The Church. The Spiritual Foundations Of Life. Trans. Donald Attwater (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 2016), 38.

[4] St. Hildegard of Bingen, “Letter 220r” in The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen. Volume III. Trans. Joseph L Baird and Radd K Ehrman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 14.

[5] Origen, Homilies on the Psalms: Codex Monacensis Graecus 314. Trans. Joseph W. Trigg (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2020), 243 [Homily 1 on Psalm 76].

 

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