BEATITUDES EXPLAINED 4:
WHAT IS THE SCRIPTURAL NOTION OF “RIGHTEOUSNESS” OR “JUSTICE”?
“The notion of righteousness (or justice) in Holy Scripture is an essentially religious one (cf. notes on Mt 1:19 and 3:15). A righteous person is one who sincerely strives to do the Will of God, which is discovered in the commandments, in one’s duties of state in life and through one’s life of prayer. Thus, righteousness, in the language of the Bible, is the same as what nowadays is usually called “HOLINESS” (1 Jn 2:29; 3:7-10; Rev 22:11; Gen 15:6; Deut 9:4).
As St Jerome comments (Comm. on Matthew, 5, 6), in the fourth Beatitude our Lord is asking us not simply to have a vague desire for righteousness: we should hunger and thirst for it, that is, we should love and strive earnestly to seek what makes a man righteous in God’s eyes. A person who genuinely wants to attain Christian holiness should love the means which the Church, the universal vehicle of salvation, offers all men and teaches them to use — frequent use of the sacraments, an intimate relationship with God in prayer, a valiant effort to meet one’s social, professional and family responsibilities (Commentary to the Gospel of St. Matthew, Navarre Bible, Sceptre Press).”
DO WE HUNGER AND THIRST FOR HOLINESS?
Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et exultate, comments:
77. Hunger and thirst are intense experiences, since they involve basic needs and our instinct for survival. There are those who desire justice and yearn for righteousness with similar intensity. Jesus says that they will be satisfied, for sooner or later justice will come. We can cooperate to make that possible, even if we may not always see the fruit of our efforts.
78. Jesus offers a justice other than that of the world, so often marred by petty interests and manipulated in various ways. Experience shows how easy it is to become mired in corruption, ensnared in the daily politics of quid pro quo, where everything becomes business. How many people suffer injustice, standing by powerlessly while others divvy up the good things of this life. Some give up fighting for real justice and opt to follow in the train of the winners. This has nothing to do with the hunger and thirst for justice that Jesus praises.
79. True justice comes about in people’s lives when they themselves are just in their decisions; it is expressed in their pursuit of justice for the poor and the weak. While it is true that the word “justice” can be a synonym for faithfulness to God’s will in every aspect of our life, if we give the word too general a meaning, we forget that it is shown especially in justice towards those who are most vulnerable: “Seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Is 1:17).
Hungering and thirsting for righteousness: that is holiness.