37 - To Hunger for Righteousness, July 3, 2016 (with audio)

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Hebrews 11:33 – 12:2 (Saints)

Romans 2:10 – 16

Matthew 4:25 – 5:12 (Saints)

Matthew 4:18-23

The LORD says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” What is this righteousness that blesses and satisfies those who hunger and thirst after it?

“Righteousness is immortal,” (1:15) we read in the Wisdom of Solomon. To hunger and thirst after righteousness, then, is to desire eternal life.

But, the LORD says to Mary and Martha: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (Jn 11:25) And, St Paul says: “Christ Jesus is our righteousness” (I Cor 1:30). This righteousness, which is immortal life, is Jesus Christ Himself. To those who hunger and thirst after Him, He gives Himself to them as their food and drink in the Living Bread (Jn 6:51) and Cup of His Holy Church, which is His Body, that they may live forever (Jn 6:58) and be satisfied.

Jesus Christ is the Image of God (Col 1:15) in whom we were made (Gn 1:27-28). He is the Word (Logos) of God, the Meaning of our existence. To hunger and thirst after righteousness, then, is to hunger and thirst after the meaning of our existence in Christ.

The Word of God, says St Paul, is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12). The heart, says Jeremiah, is the man; it is our “who”; and, it is deep beyond all things. In the heart, in our real “self”, we open out onto God in the Image of God, Jesus Christ, in whom we were made; i.e., we open out onto the meaning of our existence, which is Jesus Christ; we open out onto the righteousness, the eternal life of God that is Jesus Christ. To hunger and thirst after righteousness is therefore the desire of the philosophers, illumined by Him who is the True Light, to “know thyself.”

St Macarius the Egyptian says, the tomb of the LORD is our heart (Hom 11.11). For there, says St Paul, we lie dead in our sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1). We therefore live, move and have our being in a strange land. We are far, far away from the divine meaning in which we were made; for “God did not make death. He created all things that they might exist in being; that they might exist always in wholeness, health, life and freedom” (swthrioi - Wisd Sol 1:13-14). “He created man to be immortal” – righteous – “He made him to be an image of His own eternity” (Wisd Sol 2:23).

Christ died on the Cross. He was laid in the tomb. He descended into Hades, the realm of the soul where all things, because of sin, exist in the darkness of death, far away from God. All of this is the face (the prosopon) of the logos or hypostatic meaning (the meaning that stands underneath) the Savior’s Holy Pascha. Its inner (hypostatic) logos or meaning is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, living and acting, in the mystery of His Cross that is sharper than any two edged sword, penetrating our being all the way into our heart, into the chamber of our “who” to become absolutely one with us in our unrighteousness, our spiritual death, where we are forsaken of God, existing in a manner contrary to the logos or meaning of our nature and our existence. We are at odds with ourselves, profoundly out of sync, disjointed, psychologically fragmented, spiritually schizophrenic. This is why we suffer sickness, disease and maladies of every kind in both soul and body.

To hunger and thirst after righteousness, then, is to long for union with Christ and for the healing of our soul and body. I think this hunger and thirst for righteousness are the heart of the Beatitudes; and I think we see it played out in this morning’s Gospel when it says that He went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every sickness and every malady in the people (cf. Eze 47:1-13). It appears to me that St Matthew sets the LORD’s teaching and preaching – i.e., His words that are living and active – in parallel with His healing. The words of the LORD’s teaching and preaching heal, and his healing teaches and proclaims; i.e., it makes wise and righteous. The words of the Savior’s preaching and teaching are thereby presented as seeds of righteousness sown into our bodies through hearing. When received and nurtured, those words pierce to the division of soul and spirit, like a seed sending its roots deep into the soil; i.e., the words of the Savior’s teaching and preaching lead us into the tomb of our heart. They illumine us so that we are able to discern the thoughts and intentions of our heart in the confession of our sins (I Jn 1:5ff). This is the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart the LORD does not despise (Ps 50:17 LXX). The LORD receives such a sacrifice and with His Blood He sprinkles our hearts clean of an evil conscience (Heb 10:22), which the blood sacrifices of goats and bulls could not do (cf. Heb 10:4 & 11). He heals us deeply; He creates in us a clean heart, He renews in us a right spirit, and He raises us up in the eternal life, i.e. the righteousness, which was the original destiny God intended for us (cf. Eph 1:4-5).

We see in this morning’s Gospel that these words of Jesus’ preaching and teaching are not mental ideas. The Father dwells in them (cf. Jn 14:10). They are, if you will, units of divine energy. They are the doing of the work of the Father, which is to create (“He spoke and it came to be,” Ps 33:9; “He commanded and they were created,” 148:5), to raise into existence, to make good or beautiful (Gn 1), to make whole and eternal (Wisd 1:14), to deliver from the snares of death that enslave us and to lead us out of the far country of our exile into the land of our inheritance (Eze 37:12). These words of Jesus’ preaching and teaching are, as it were, units of righteousness. They make those who hunger and thirst for them righteous, i.e. alive and whole in the ennobling joy of Christ.  And those who receive them as their food and drink, i.e., who make them to be the logos, the inner meaning that governs their life, have no want. They lack no good thing (Ps 34:10).

The words of Christ’s preaching and teaching are the net of the Holy Spirit that makes the holy apostles fishers of men. Received from Christ, they are Christic words. They bear His Holy Spirit; they are saturated with the living waters of the Holy Spirit. The saving net of the apostles’ words falls over us in the teaching and preaching of the Church, in the prayers of the Church’s worship, in her Holy Scriptures, her holy icons, in her ascetic disciplines. Christ Himself is teaching us and preaching to us in these words. In these words, He is healing us, if we would draw near to Him and listen to His words as did the people in this morning’s Gospel. They would cleanse and purify our heart so that the vision of God would begin to come into view – not as some religious idea or sincerely held belief but as a substantive reality we can see, hear and feel in our soul. If we would eat and drink them, if we would embrace them as the governing principle of our life, the hunger and thirst of our soul would be filled with the divine blessing that is in them, raising us up in the grace of the Holy Spirit to righteousness, to eternal life, to the meaning of our existence in the joy of the Father that is in Our LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.