Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. (Matthew 5:6)
Perhaps the overarching question herein is, “What is righteousness?” For it is something to hunger and thirst after, and something that will fill us and will ensure that we are able to filled when nothing else on this earth will fill us. It is what we desire and what we need. It is both the goal and the gift, the means and the end. We seek righteousness, and we are given righteousness. We are unrighteous, and yet we are made righteous in His name.
So what is it then?
The Greek text uses δικαιοσύνη – dee-kai-o-seen-ay. This word is also often translated in the New Testament as “just.” It is not a legal term, as is supposed by many of those who practice the Western Faith. Righteousness, indeed, is a spiritual term, and is often translated as “justice,” but this justice is not quite the same as the Western juridical concept of the word.
“The word DIKAIWSUNH, ‘justice’,” writes Alexander Kalomiros, “is a translation of the Hebraic word tsedaka. This word means ‘the divine energy which accomplishes man’s salvation.'” To me, this says that when we hunger and thirst after righteousness, we are seeking the things of God, not the concepts of man. Many here on earth picture Christ as some kind of pill that once we swallow, will make us righteous, or justified. But throughout all of Christ’s teachings, He instructed us to follow Him, to live in a “righteous” manner. And in the end, this speaks of one term: love. It is the moment of heartbreak in witnessing suffering. It is the sacrifice of one’s self for the self of another. It is the backstep we take from the precipice of sin; it is the act of rising up and dusting ourselves off because we have fallen again.
The other definitions in this verse make it quite clear that this is about cultivating a desire for the things of God.
thirst = διψάω, to thirst after spiritually
hunger = πεινάω, to hunger after, desire earnestly, long for
be filled = χορτάζω, to satisfy the desire of anyone
Let us now plug in the meanings of these words back into the verse of this study:
Blessed (happy) are those that desire earnestly for and thirst after spiritually for the divine energy that accomplishes man’s salvation, for they shall be given satisfaction.
I am happy and touched by God if I seek after and strive for the grace that sanctifies us by God. Of course it is God who does it, but what Jesus tells us here is that we must seek this too like we seek the morning’s first drink of water and morsel of bread. God’s righteousness in a sense is spiritual manna. It is a satiating substance, found when we look outside of ourselves, out of our camps, for the gift of God. And by His grace, which we obtain through our faith in His Providence, we are filled with this spiritual nutrition.
Literal food and drink are not the rewards for God’s people, but righteousness is. If we seek righteousness, avidly, as in earnestly desiring and thirsting after it, God’s promise is, we shall receive it, and it shall fill us more profoundly than any victual or beverage could. “He speaks of food with which they shall be filled at this present; to wit, that food of which the Lord spake, ‘My food is to do the will of my Father,’ that is, righteousness, and that water of which whoever drinks it shall be in him ‘a well of water springing up to life eternal,'” wrote St. Augustine.
The other side of this issue is that Jesus Christ defined righteousness as a foundation of properly giving to others (being merciful). Jesus, wrote the Blessed Theophylact, was about to speak about almsgiving (Blessed are the merciful), so first He had to define what was righteous. “He first shows that one must pursue righteousness, and not give away alms from what has been acquired by theft and extortion.” He had to set the standard the standard of righteous behavior and extol the virtues of pursuing it. He had to state simply that all things given by God had to be obtained through the striving for righteousness and not through any other means.