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I'm taking a short break from studying for the conference I'm teaching at this weekend. I'm teaching through the beatitudes - those eight blessings from Jesus in Matthew 5:1-12, the ones I've been studying and teaching and singing about for a couple years now. And I just learned something new about them. Well, about one of them.

I've read a couple dozen books and a stack of commentaries, everything I can find on-line, blah blah blah and I think the two most thorough and plausible translations I've found are from a book by John Stott and one by William Barclay. Tonight I reread Barclay's and found something I'd missed before about hungering and thirsting for righteousness - the fourth beatitude.

He says that the Greeks said they were thirsty or hungry in the genitive case. Now, I'm not that smart, so I had to look up the genitive case and struggle through understanding it. What he means is that they would say literally "I hunger for OF bread", meaning they hunger for a PIECE of bread and not the whole loaf. Or "I thirst for OF water", meaning they thirst for a glass of water and not the whole ocean.

This is the usual accepted way of talking for Greeks. Who knew? Apparently only Barclay.

But in the Greek translation of "blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" the hungering and thirsting is oddly in the direct accusative case. An apparently intentional tweak to the usual way of saying things for Greeks..and again, I had to figure out what that meant exactly. (Wish I went to seminary sometimes.) If I asked for bread in the accusative case I'd being saying literally, "I'm hungry for all the bread you have" and "I'm thirsty for all the water."

So Barclay says this beatitude could be translated "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the whole of righteousness, for complete righteousness."

He goes on to describe two people. One is a rule follower. You can't pin a fault on them. They never make a mistake. But, tell them your sad story and they're response is cold. This is half-righteousness. Cold legalism without the warmth of love. And the other person he describes is as warm as a person can be. You have a problem? He'll be there for you, listening, lending a hand. Warm. But his life is full of faults. He's loaded down with addictions and grudges and worry and his mood swings from calm to temper tantrum. This is half-righteousness too. Just another kind. No better. No worse.

Barclay concludes that "neither an icy faultlessness nor a faulty warm-heartedness" is the whole righteousness we should hunger and thirst for.

When I read this I thought about how many of my non-Christian friends through the years have had a bone to pick with Christians they knew, the prudes who kept every rule and shamed them for not doing the same, the kind who made horrible empathizers and listeners and helpers. I've been known to be that kind of heartless dutiful Christian.

And I thought about one non-Christian friend of mine in particular, one I met on-line about a year ago. Even communicating through ones and zeros and pixels she exuded kindness - well, for all who agreed with her world view, which meant Christians were usually not treated to a dose of it and Republican pro-life Christians got the finger instead. For some reason though we became friends, at least we talked regularly through e-mail. And while she'd sell her house to save my life or yours, she blogged about cheating on her husband and the lies she told to cover it up. She defended herself by saying he was inattentive and she didn't love him anymore. She had a nasty temper and readily admitted a load of other faults too. She loved the love part of all religions and gods and equally loathed their structures and emphasis on obedience to some set of rules. I've been her too, defining right by majority rule and whether anyone gets hurt.

I find myself understanding both people and not in agreement with either. They're both in love with half a God - half a Jesus - and so am I. Jesus said no one gets to God unless they go through him. He told people to "go and sin no more." He said his way is "narrow" and "few" find it, or want to be on it. His first sermon began with the word "repent". He talked about hell and who goes there. He orders us not to fight, divorce, cheat on our spouses or our taxes, not to gossip, be angry, worry, worship other gods, want what others have, and not to punish wrong with wrong. AND Jesus also fed the hungry, played with children, wept when a friend died, forgave the people who killed him, ate and drank with outcasts a lot, made wine for a party and said people would recognize his followers in the future because they'd be the ones who loved people so well.

He's ALL of righteousness: He made the rules and insists upon obedience to them while calling those who broke them to go to dinner with him.

Why do I choose to hunger for only part of righteousness, only part of who Jesus is? Convenience? A feeling of superiority? Happiness? Control? Political and cultural accommodation and/or acceptance?

I don't know what the motivation is for everyone else, but for ME, it's all of the above. I've liked at times to feel better than you so I've reminded you of how not good you are. Guilty. I've ignored the need for outer obedience and (rule following) so I can feel more enlightened and free and modern and liberal and, honestly, accepted and more normal and in control of my life. Guilty.

What Barclay claims in the end is that without thirsting for ALL of righteousness (as defined by the example and teachings of Jesus) we won't be filled (by God) and therefore satisfied. Ever. And that goes for the church going pro-life lifelong Baptist sunday school teacher and the hooker with the heart of gold. But those who hunger and thirst for ALL of righteousness, Jesus promises will be "filled" with it.

I'll be looking in the mirror on this one for a while I'm sure.

Back to studying.


Blogger samlcarr said...

Hi, i liked your post. Barclay and Stott are two of my favourites too!

Just wondered, you went pretty deep into 'hungering' but how about a bit more on what rhiteousness meant especially to Jesus...

Blogger Shaun Groves said...

I went into it because, like I said, that was the part that was new to me after all these months of studying and teaching the beatitudes. No time to go into the righteousness part now though.

Another time.


Blogger GrovesFan said...

I'm just grateful that I wasn't the friend you're talking about in the post! I'd rather be no friend at all than be that one to be honest. Not because of the "vices," etc. but because for me, that would mean my self-esteem had sunk to an all time low of astronomical lows and I'd be looking for a hospital to check into. That's not true for everyone for sure (or even anyone but me perhaps), but for me to "broadcast" those vises, would be a sure sign for me.

I'm glad that you're friends with this person and that your friendship doesn't depend on her ability to meet certain "requirements."

I'd like to hear more about this topic. I've never heard of it from this perspective either and it sure changes the way that beattitude should be applied to our daily walk.


Anonymous euphrony said...

Shaun, your writing made me think of Paul's statements "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything." (1 Cor 6:12, NASB) and "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify." (1 Cor 10:23, NASB).

Yes, there is the fact that I can do what I want, what I feel is "right" or "permissible" for me in any moment. What I think, what my opinion or interpretation is, has no effect on whether or not what I do is in the heart of God. Does it build up the church (individual parts or the whole)? Does it bring me closer to the God who calls me onward? Or does it satisfy my desire of the moment (physical, emotional)? Does it satisfy my own self-righteous confidence, leaving it unshaken?

Good thoughts on insatiable hunger and thirst. I had heard something along that line a few years ago, but had forgotten. Thanks for the reminder.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I need to send my greek stuff to you Shaun I don't use it any more.

Blogger Terry Frank said...

Interesting write up...and extremely thoughtful.

For me personally, the challenge for hungering for "all of righteousness" is the blessings I've received. I love to serve my Lord. But when life is good, I don't feel like I'm doing all I can do to serve Christ...and I'm sure I'm not.

When I suffer, it is is so much easier to hunger for all of righteousness. Does this make sense?

As far as reasons why we don't hunger, yes, you've nailed them down pretty well.

Blogger Kathryn said...

i'm glad i read this. thank you.
i want to hunger and thirst for all of God. . but when i get even slightly close i become afraid of who would i be if i let go to that degree and i pull back.

Blogger Shane S. said...

Wow, that is some incredible perspective on that verse. The idea of WHOLE righteousness is an answer to a lot of confusing thoughts that I have had for the last few months.

By the way, I recently learned that you're coming to my school next week, Shaun. I'm really looking forward to it!


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