Righteousness versus Rightness

by | May 25, 2021 | 4 Hunger & Thirst


Righteousness, understood anew, ushers in a new dawn.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6).

Thank you, Jesus, for not saying, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for rightness’ sake.” For at the helm of bloody crusades, holocausts, fights for segregation, and plane crashes into skyscrapers, we invariably find those who insist their rightness.  They often do so in the name of God, giving religion a bad name.

And thank you, Jesus, for not saying, “Blessed are the righteous,” because nobody can claim that.  Nobody.  But see how many hunger and thirst for righteousness!

Now, dear reader, do not to flee this post for revulsion at the word, “righteousness.”  The word suffers much abuse and misunderstanding, primarily because of failure to discriminate it from “rightness.”  Rightness insists that one’s beliefs match up with presumed moral facts, a presumptions that makes us feel like gods.  Righteousness, on the other hand, seeks right relationship with another person, which entails love.  Most often when we think of it, we think of God.

And do not flee for fear that you lack it, aware of your ordinary forgetfulness of God and shortfalls in piety.  Or maybe you cannot let go of anger at God or cannot shake your doubts.  But do you nevertheless wish for a loving relationship with God in the end?  Then Christ blesses you.

Of course, those who pursue a loving relationship want to please their beloved. So those who hunger and thirst for a loving relationship with God care very much how to live in a way that pleases God.  Not that we fully know how to please God.  We cannot read God’s mind any more than we can read a lover’s mind.  God is full of surprises.

But this Beatitude assures us that we do not have to know.  We need only desire to please God, and God who knows our hearts will lead us eventually to the pleasing way of love.  That fills us.  We cannot become righteous ourselves without God’s righteousness, God’s loving pursuit of us, God’s leading us to respond in love.

For those of us prone to guilt, shame, and perplexity, this is very good news.  But those also prone to pride (all of us, in one way or the other), find such grace hard to swallow.  Then we wish this Beatitude read, “Blessed are those who are right,” because someone like Eden’s serpent whispers in our ears that we can manage that.

This Beatitude, then, comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. If you are like me, you spend time on both sides of those tracks.  Sometimes prayer makes you hungry and thirsty, sometimes it satisfies you.  But either way, you land in God’s arms.  No righteousness exceeds resting there.

Related Posts

Filled Through Longing and Loving
The Merton Prayer
Letting Go and Loving: How the Fourth Beatitude Changed Me


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