Many translations will soften this to what is right or righteousness. It gives a more religious meaning. Righteousness seems to be understood as not sinning, which I believe is way off track here. I think Jesus knows we are going to sin, and that we will never stop sinning. I think He is less worried about what wrong we do, and more concerned with what good we didn’t do.
As we have seen with the previous beatitudes, Jesus’s primary concern is for the poor. The bottom class who is outside the system. The gentle ones, who mourn over the misery in the world. Nothing is different in this beatitude. The word usually translated righteousness, is actually justice. Justice is another misunderstood word, at least theologically. Justice is giving persons what they are owed. Giving God what He is owed, which is everything, but also all the rest of us. Again, I think God is much less concerned with what we do wrong, so I don’t think this is about desiring punishment for those who have done wrong. I think it is wanting justice for those who have been wronged.
This is something called social justice. It has become a bad word for many conservatives because they think it means a welfare state. I don’t want to get into politics, but what Jesus is simply saying is that we should hunger and thirst to see everyone taken care off. We should want people to have food, clothing, and shelter. He later says that those who do not feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, or visit the prisoner do not know Him. That’s what this beatitude is about.
I heard a statistic that said that we have enough food to feed everyone twice their daily calorie needs every day. We have enough to feed everyone twice as much as they need. So the problem isn’t scarcity. The problem is that they system just doesn’t work that way. Yet another reason Jesus is appealing to those who are outside the system. Those inside the system will fight to defend it, especially those at the top.
We forget that the first Christian community in Jerusalem was a commune. Everyone sold everything they had and gave it to the Apostles to distribute evenly. I can’t imagine that working well on any kind of large-scale, but it is a lesson in how the early Church understood the teachings of Christ.
Hunger, poverty, and homelessness are big problems. I don’t have many answers to them besides just helping people. And don’t just throw money at people. Bill Mahr said that giving to homeless people is actually paying them not to touch him. I know he’s a comedian, but what he said isn’t far from the truth for many of us. We pay beggars to leave us alone and go away. Jesus touched people. When was the last time to took some time and talked to someone who needed help? I don’t do it enough. Not wanting to get involved with someone and their problems is my first reaction. But it is that very reaction that keeps the Kingdom of Heaven from breaking through. On Super Bowl Sunday I was stopped on my way to the store by a guy who needed money. I had some, but I didn’t know how much I was going to need. I was going to buy medicine for my sick girlfriend, but I was also getting junk food for me. I told the guy I was going to buy medicine, using that as an excuse not to give him anything. So the guy grabbed my hand and started to pray for my girlfriend and for me. I thanked him and left, still not giving anything because I wanted to keep up my lie. I failed my brother that day.
So forget about hungering for righteousness, and started thirsting for justice for the poor.