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Pilgrimage of Justice through the Beatitudes of Matthew (5:3-12)

The third reflection of the Seven Weeks for Water is by Dr Ani Ghazaryan Drissi, a member of the Secretariat of the Faith and Order Commission at the World Council of Churches. In this reflection she has addresses the “thirst for justice” through the popular beatitude of Gospel of Matthew and compares the physical as well as metaphorical thirst faced by the people of Palestine due to lack of water
Pilgrimage of Justice through the Beatitudes of Matthew (5:3-12)

“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God” – © Paul and Cathy/flickr

Reflection for the Seven Weeks for Water 2016

Week 3

Please note: Opinions expressed in Biblical reflections or background resources do not necessarily reflect EWN and WCC policy.

By Ani Ghazaryan Drissi*

Click here for Arabic translation (pdf)

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness..."
(Matthew 5:6a)

The justice and righteousness of the fourth beatitude are presented by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew as a necessity. This justice is the way to happiness promised by the fourth beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). Only those who hunger and thirst for divine justice will be satisfied and filled with happiness. However, for centuries, a major question arises over the meaning of this justice: what is the justice that Matthew presents? Why, contrary to the evangelist Luke who presents a physical hunger and thirst (Luke 6:21), does Matthew emphasize the need to suffer hunger and thirst for righteousness? What kind of justice does the first Gospel present?

Justice (δικαιοσύνη) in the Gospel of Matthew does not refer to the right due to each or, as in the Epistles of Paul, where the believer receives the justice from God for free. For Matthew, as in Jewish writings, justice is a commitment: a loyalty, a life adjusted to the desire of a God to which the believer decides to be close (see Matthew 3:15; 5:20; 6: 1.33; 21:32). Justice is a key word for Matthew; it refers to all that is related to the will of God according to Scripture, either in relations with others (Matthew 5:20) or the right attitude toward God (Matthew 6:1). Longing for justice is as much to commit to the divine will by a life of fidelity as waiting impatiently to come into the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:10).

Justice in the first Gospel is faithfulness to God. The hunger and thirst for justice are hunger and thirst for a world where biblical values are important, a world that lives in the spirit of the beatitudes. Every human being has need of divine justice. The need for justice is even more emphasized among the poor, the oppressed, and the bereaved.

Today, the desperate cry of the poor from the Middle East is limitless. Deprivation of water in the region where they live adds to the various forms of injustice they face. Water is a scarce resource in the Middle East. This region has a dry climate and therefore water scarcity becomes more and more critical to the survival of people living in these countries. On top of it, unjust restrictions imposed on Palestinians by Israel further aggravates the challenges in access to water for Palestinians. Thus, the living conditions of the Palestinian people are deteriorating day by day because of an unfair distribution of water by Israel ... Palestinians are doubly victimised. They face the physical thirst for water and the thirst for justice! The challenge, therefore before us is how to address this source of conflict, the water, which could become a source of peace! A fair and equitable distribution of water resources remains to be negotiated between the various parties.

The demand of the oppressed people is simply the right to live, to exist, the right to not be hungry and thirsty. The restoration of divine justice is so important for these humans that they are comforted by the idea and the promise that God will not abandon them even during the persecutions they suffer every day in Syria, Iraq, Palestine and the Middle East region.

Matthew mentions the hunger and the thirst for righteousness, but also mentions the persecution in the name of justice (Matthew 5:10) that appears in the eighth beatitude. In fact, in this beatitude, it is not only the complaint that the world is not as we would imagine, or the discouragement of waiting for a happier ending. Matthew attests to the need for vigilance, a fight for a more just world. André Chouraqui, translating the word ‘happy’ with ‘walking ...’, reflects upon the profound dynamic of the beatitudes which, far from leading to the comfort of a sleeping conscience, calls for mobilization. Not forgetting the One who spoke these words, it is an invitation to a pilgrimage towards justice and peace. Thousands of women, children and men are walking now from the Middle East to ‘safer’ countries with the aim of finding a consolation, a happiness, a life of happiness that God promises through His justice. The suffering of this world can bring one who endures to shrivel; the beatitudes urge one to open oneself to God. By relying on God, the believer opens his eyes on himself and lives in this world, measuring the world’s need for God and others.

If ‘hunger and thirst’ embody the gap between what we live and the world to which we aspire, they force awareness and the need to take action. The world needs justice. God's promises are not to be neglected, but they must be taken as a responsibility; rather than waiting for a day that falls from the sky, you should yourself be a sign of this different world to which we aspire. The beatitudes are not intended for the weakened believer only – they are addressed to everyone who tries to speak, every human. They are universal (God is not even named): the highest number of humans can adopt the text, beyond the limits of the ecclesiastical institution. God does not deserve: He will appear to those who act in His name, as He will give himself to those who are looking for him.

Psalm 42

To the leader. A Maskil of the Korahites.
1 As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
‘Where is your God?’

4 These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help 6and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.
8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God, my rock,
‘Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?’
10 As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
‘Where is your God?’

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Thoughts for Reflection:

- Keep in your thoughts Psalm 42: “… My soul thirsts for God, for the living God…”.

Questions for Discussion:

- What does it mean for you to hunger and thirst for righteousness/justice?

- What is the justice that Matthew presents?

What you can do:

- Prepare a discussion / presentation on water justice in your community and inform as much as possible about the issues related to water justice in the world.

- Organize an ecumenical prayer about the theme of water, to mobilize the churches in your region to reflect on the issue of ‘water justice’.



*Dr Ani Ghazaryan Drissi is a member of the Secretariat of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches; she is from the Armenian Apostolic Church, Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.