Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6).
Once upon a time, my life fell apart.
In the chaos before restoration, I grasped whatever I could reach to get a handle on something, anything to regain control.
Near at hand stood a thousand hypotheses about what I did wrong to cause the mess. However loving or well-considered my actions, nothing I ever did was safe from ruthless self-criticism. For what better way to regain control than by finding something I could correct? It seemed worth all the guilt and anguish.
Alas, it was not. And I kidded myself when I considered the ruthless self-interrogation part of the hungering and thirsting that Jesus blessed. Not that I doubt his compassion for those of us prone to perfectionistic self-harassment. I sense that compassion in his tender chiding of Martha after she complained of working so hard to do the right thing – prepare a dinner for Jesus, the honored guest — while her sister Mary just sat there (Luke 10:38-42).
But I learned better what hungering and thirsting for righteousness means after letting go of the self-critical scramble. I let go out of exhaustion as much as anything else. As I sat there like Mary looking to Jesus and feeling clueless, I could almost hear him say, “Now you’re on the right track.”
The Hebrew term for “blessed,” ashre, also means, “on the right track.” But if dropping the guilt and waiting for God is the right track, what is “hungering and thirsting for righteousness?”
Letting go like Mary.
Mary did not just sit there. She adored Jesus. In doing so, she loved herself because if God made her and called her for anything at all, it was to love the Beloved.
You can love by prattering in the kitchen and concocting your best soup. You can love by setting the table and taking drink orders. But once resentment sets in and you start keeping score, you best have a seat and get in touch with the better unrest, the desire for your Beloved.
Righteousness is not about subjecting self or others to a Grand Inquisition. It does not offer relief from guilt or uncertainty about getting it right. It offers arms to hold, a place to abide.
It is much more like making love than setting the record straight. God loves you and you love God and after a while things get out of control. In a good way.
Just prior to his visit with Martha and Mary, Jesus affirmed the greatest commandment,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27).
If you don’t feel you do that enough, don’t worry. None of us do. The question is whether you want to do it. If so, then you are blessed. You are on the right track.
Thomas Merton prayed on behalf of us all:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going…And the fact that I think I am doing the right thing does not mean I am doing so…But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in everything I do…
That is hungering and thirsting for righteousness. After perfectionistic self-interrogation failed me, Merton’s prayer gave me peace. Letting go of my need for control, I got back on my feet again and started walking, sure that someday I would be filled.