ListenWhen Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:1-12, NRSV).
Righteousness is a central theme throughout all of scripture. And as Dr. Ford noted in the opening of his sermon, it is something that we are naturally drawn to. Those who speak of the term outside of theology equate goodness with righteousness. Heroes are deemed righteous because they do “good” things to help others, although their lives may be wrought with violence, adultery and unethical behavior. However this is not how “righteousness” is understood in the Bible. While the word “righteousness” is closely connected with “justice” in the Bible, these terms find their definitions in the grace of God. We do not become righteous through any action of our own; we are made righteous through the work of the Spirit bestowed upon us by God. As a result, righteousness has two levels of meaning, especially in Matthew’s gospel. On one hand, there is the individual desire for righteousness, to live a life that is framed by God’s will. On the other hand, there is the communal desire for God’s justice against the wicked. Both are possible because both desire intention on the part of the believer in order to be realized. Again, Jesus is describing those who live in the kingdom of God. Those who desire righteousness, Jesus says, will be satisfied by God (cf., Psalm 17:15, 107:9, 132:25, 146:7).
When I was backpacking across Europe, I spent a couple of days in Paris. No, it was not as romantic as it sounds. I found myself quite hungry and I roamed the streets for something to eat. My problem was that I do not speak or read French and I was in a place where nothing was familiar. I finally found a snack cart that sold Snickers bars and Coca-Colas. Neither had every tasted so good. I needed to be satisfied (see what I did there), therefore I went on an intentional journey to find something. Mike Cope refers to this intentional desire for righteousness as developing a “craving for transcendence.” In short, we must crave to become righteous.
- Read Psalm 42:1-4. How does your current spiritual journey reflect this prayer, especially in light of Matthew 5:6 and Dr. Ford’s sermon?
- Think of an area of your spiritual life that you are not intentional about. Prayer for commitment and conviction to strengthen that aspect of your spiritual life.
Van A. Harvey, A Handbook of Theological Terms (New York: Touchstone Books/Simon and Schuster, 1964), 210-211.
Larry Chouinard, Matthew, College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Co., 1997), 98.
Mike Cope, Righteousness Inside Out: The Heart of the Problem and the Problem of the Heart (Nashville: Christian Communications, 1988), 17.