By Dr Donald Coggan, Archbishop of York
One of the enjoyable things about the study of lloly Scripture is that there are so many passages in it which, having been read frequently, seem to beckon the reader and say: "Look tgain. Have you seen all there is to see? Have you been deluded by the apparent simplicity of the incident or the saying? Is there something deeper which you may have missed?"
This is certainly true of the beatitudes. and of none of them more so than of the fourth, as St Matthew gives it to. us: "Happy are those \Nilo hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied" (Jerusalem Bible).
Before attempting to write this article, I took down from my shelves a variety of translations and compared them. They seemed to me to tall into three categories. Taken together, they offer a wide variety of meanings and offer food for thought and prayer.
First. there are those translations which indicate moral and ethical goodness; we might say godliness. or beauty of character — "righteousness" (AV, RSV): "goodness" (Moffatt: Phillips). For a Christian, that means likeness to Jesus Christ. Here is something to be coveted abOve all else; to be sought as the pearl of great price. The assurance is given that, if that is the deepest desire of a man's heart, he will not go unsatisfied. He may not know that the spiritual metamorphosis is Liking place and he is being fashioned after the likeness of the Son of God: but it will happen, nonetheless.
Such an ambition — to he "well-pleasing to I lim", as St Paul put it (2 Cor. 5. 9) — if pursued steadily, will take the place of a seeking for human admiration and the praise of men, and that is an exchange abundantly worthwhile.
Secondly, there are those translations which indicate social righteousness — "to see right prevail" (NFB); "VI, hatis right" (Jerusalem Bible). In such translations. Jesus is seen as the successor of the Old' Testament prophets, pleading for social justice. inveighing against the hypocrisy of a religion which has ritual but no righteousness. sacrifice hut no mercy, show but no morality.
I lere is a word for our day, whether we think of South Africa and the brave fight for righteousness of a Beyers Naude in conflict with the forces of apartheid; or whether we come nearer home and think of those who seek to break the stalemate c isting between govern
ment and trades union; or whether. we think of those W110 Lv or k for right relations between employers and employees. Persons before profits, or profits before persons? Which? The obscenity of luxury in a world of poverty; the prostitution or personality and not only in the realm of sex — all these things, and many more, spring to mind when we face the implications of such a beatitude as this on those who "long to see right prevail". I am not sure that either of the above translations exhausts the meaning of this tantalising saying. William Barclay is among the minority of scholars who translates, or, rather, paraphrases it thus: "Oh the bliss of those who hunger and thirst for all that sets them right with God, for they shall be satisfied to the full". He may well be
very near w 'righteousness' meant to a Hebrew. To a Greek it would mean what we have been thinking of under the first heading — "goodness". But to a Hebrew, steeped in the thought of the writings of such prophets as DeuteroIsaiah, the word would signify God's deliverance, His salvation. His rescue of men in need.
If this is correct, the saying would he in keeping, not only with the basic teaching of St Paul, but with so much of the teaching of Jesus
Himself. Who are the "justified"? According to the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, not the man who boasts of his own goodness and "works", but the man who cries out for the deliverance, the "salvation", of God — "God be merciful to me, sinner that I am."
The Prodigal Son was in precisely that position when, returning from the far country, he cast himself on the sheer goodness and forgivingness of his Father and looked to him to reinstatement in his family. That is salvation; that is righteousness; that is God's supreme gift of grace to those who hunger and thirst for it. There is nothing else they can do, but stretch out , empty hands for so great a gift.
That we are, us a society and as individuals, at the end of our tether is sheer hard fact. The tragedy is that so often we do not realise it. To admit this, to face the fact, to hunger and thirst for the deliverance of God this is to find salvation.
To ponder such a beatitude is to deepen character, to sharpen conscience, and to take us to the heart of the Christian religion.