Delight in the Law of God: Sermons on the Beatitudes and Commandments of God (Part IV)

Prophet Amos

Prophet Amos

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

DELIGHT IN THE LAW OF GOD SERMONS ON THE BEATITUDES AND THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD (PART IV)
by Protopresbyter James Thornton

"Blessed Are Thy Which Do Hunger and Thirst After Righteousness". Saint Matthew 5:6

The fourth of the Beatitudes of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ reads: "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." Hunger and thirst are feelings, internal impulses, built within our bodies to assure that we take in the food and drink necessary to maintain the proper functioning of our bodies. If, for instance, we deprive ourselves of sufficient food, our bodies signal us in various ways--discomfort in the form of hunger pangs, an internal sensation of emptiness, and a grumbling in our stomachs, accompanied often by feelings of weakness--telling us that we must eat. That is called "hunger." Likewise, if we fail to drink sufficient fluids, the parched sensation in our throats and mouths tell us that we must drink. That is called "thirst." Should we choose to ignore these signals for a long period of time, our good health is eventually endangered, and even death becomes a possibility as a result.

So, hunger and thirst are natural sensations, involuntary sensations, placed within us to protect our bodies from neglect. Were they not part of our physiologies, great numbers of men and women would likely perish from sheer forgetfulness or laziness. Moreover, when lack of nourishment and drink continue for a very long time, the fulfillment of our nutritional needs becomes a matter of immediate urgency, to sustain life. Hunger and thirst even become sufficiently strong that many will go to extraordinary lengths to save themselves even to the abandonment of all of the trappings of civilized behavior and the maintenance of dignity.  And so, these are the most basic and the most powerful of human feelings.

Christ Jesus employs these most powerful of physical impulses of hunger and thirst as metaphors in this Beatitude in order to demonstrate that desire for spiritual good health should be as developed as the physical need to eat and drink. In the Book of Psalms we read: "As the hart panteth after the springs of water, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsted for God, the mighty, the living" (Psalm 41:2-3). A hart is a stag, specifically, an adult male red deer. The hart, says this Psalm, desires above all else the cool waters of the flowing brook, and to the same degree, the pious soul desires above all else the things of God.

The desire for spiritual sustenance and spiritual good health, of course, are largely voluntary. Our Creator plants certain inclinations toward goodness in the heart of every man. That is man's conscience. But these inclinations are relatively weak and easily overridden, since man is a fallen creature--hence the ubiquity of sin. So, the desire for what we may call "spiritual food and drink" requires action of the will to be developed and made strong, as strong as the need for physical food and drink. And although voluntary initially, the need for spiritual nourishment and good health on the part of the Christian should be so developed, so fixed that it becomes automatic and practically involuntary, like the automatic signals of the body. Place one of the Saints of God in position wherein he must chose between that which is spiritually healthy or spiritually unhealthy and his reaction will be instantaneous and virtually automatic. His reply to temptation is signaled by his highly-developed love of God and of the things of God.

Now, what does Christ tell us we must hunger and thirst after? Righteousness. What is the precise meaning of that word? The noun "righteousness" and the adjective "righteous" are derived from the word "right." This word, in turn, comes ultimately from a word that means "straight," as opposed to crooked. The righteous man or woman does that which is morally right. He or she follows the "strait, and narrow" path to God, not the crooked, circuitous, deceitful path of destruction.

Saint John Chrysostomos tells us that righteousness is "the whole of virtue." The righteous man is straightforward, honest, and simple in his relationship to God; he is innocent before God; he is morally upstanding in all things; he is just in his dealings with others, he is virtuous and pious; and he is determined to do what is right in the eyes of God, "come what may!" So, if he hunger and thirst after righteousness, the irresistible impulse within our hearts and souls will be to follow the will of God and to suppress the evil instincts of fallen, and therefore "unnatural," human nature.

In his "Fifteenth Homily on the Gospel of Saint Matthew," which deals with Christ's Sermon on the Mount and therefore with the Beatitudes, Saint John Chrysostomos, when he explains the meaning of righteousness, lays particular emphasis on the evil of covetousness and on the virtue of freeing ourselves from this vice. Just as hunger and thirst are overwhelmingly powerful physical impulses, so too is the base urge toward covetousness, which combines both greed and envy. This vice is so compelling that the Saint calls this compulsion a "most peculiar property of covetousness." He declares, "...[W]e are not so enamored of meat and drink, as of gaining, and compassing ourselves with more and more. [Christ therefore]...bade us to transfer this desire to a new object, freedom from covetousness." Covetousness is an obsession to accumulate more and more unnecessary material objects. In our materialistic contemporary world, where the acquisitive passion is shamelessly extolled, it is imagined that the accumulation of earthly goods brings security and peace of mind.

Remember Christ's Parable of the rich fool, recorded in the Gospel of Saint Luke, wherein a rich man possessed so much that he planned to tear down his barns to build bigger ones to store his increasing accumulation of goods. And the rich fool then says:

"And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, thou has much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.'" But God said unto him, "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?" So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (St. Luke 12:19-21).

The rich fool glorified in his great wealth and "imagined" that he had reached a state of near perfect security and comfort; his security, however, was pure delusion.

Finally, in the Fourth Beatitude, Christ promises that those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness…shall be filled." With what shall they be filled? They are to be filled with all of the good things of God. To borrow from Saint John Chrysostomos's homily once again:

"Wherefore, so long as thou doest righteously, fear not poverty, nor tremble at hunger. For the extortioners, they are the very persons who lose all, even as he certainly who is in love with righteousness, possesses himself the goods of all men in safety."

Thus, according to Saint John, we are not to be unduly fearful for earthly trials, fearful to the extent that we forgo spiritual needs in order to gain what we fancy is earthly security, like the rich fool. And even if we suffer earthly trials, we nevertheless cling to our love of righteousness. So long as we do that, then whatever transitory fame and fortune are won by the worldly-minded in this life, in the life to come all that is not bound by time, all that is eternal, will be ours.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria (378-444 AD) teaches us that:

"a man's life is not his possessions, by reason of his having an overabundance: but very blessed, and of glorious hope is he who is rich toward God...Such a one shall fined the usury of his virtue, and the recompense of his upright and blameless life; Christ shall bless him."

May all of us, here, struggle for righteousness, may we hunger and thirst for it unremittingly, as Christ bids us. Then shall all of the treasure and abundance of everlasting life be ours.

(To be continued)

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George