An appetite for justice

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It’s an ordinary day, and you’re out running errands – the post office, the library. Without much thought, you find yourself on a detour, wandering the aisles of a convenience store.

You ask yourself: Am I craving something salty or sweet? Do I need something to quench my thirst?

It’s only then when you realize how hungry and thirsty you were. But it hasn’t been a problem to go out of your way or to change your plans so you can consume this snack.

Sure, the nourishment costs you money, time and energy, but that doesn’t matter to you a bit because you were fed. Now, you’re contented.

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Mt 5:6).

Moses received the law, the Ten Commandments, on Mount Sinai; in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaims a new law of love.

In this new law, we are invited to act and love in ways that allow internal and external transformations in our hearts, in personal relationships and in society. This path of love established by Jesus will usher in the reign of God, and then Christ’s peace and justice will be fully known by all.

In the beatitudes, part of the new law, Jesus makes clear that those who are part of this loving way crave righteousness. God’s people hunger and thirst for righteousness so much that they change their plans. They make detours, and it costs them.

People who are in God’s reign feel a stirring in their hearts – a hunger for righteousness – so intensely that they go out of their way to feed their craving until they are satisfied. And amazingly, this pursuit feeds them with happiness, too.

But what is righteousness, really? In the New Testament, righteousness doesn’t mean to be right while others are wrong. It’s not an achievement, accomplishment or difference between us.

Rather, when Jesus says righteousness, he means “restoration of right relationship,” returning all people to the innocence and freedom that make up the core of our human dignity.

We are all God’s children, made in God’s image and likeness. And some of God’s likeness that we each contain includes purity and freedom to be who we truly are, unconfined by human-made systems or prejudices.

Think back to the nature of yourself in childhood: relational, loving, unashamed.

Plus, in order for a relationship to be right, power is shared; there is no judgment or blame or shame. No one is better – or better off – than anyone else.

This requires ending classism, racism and sexism – all the things that divide us. It doesn’t matter who a person is or what they did; all are honored and respected.

In fact, when there’s righteousness, all parties are free to be who God made them to be; biblical righteousness is always liberating justice.

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Mt 5:6).

There are many flavors of righteousness at the banquet of God’s reign.

Fair pay and protection for laborers, an easier path to citizenship for immigrants, unshackling those who are imprisoned, returning life to humans on death row, shelter for those who are homeless: There are many forms of righteousness that we hunger for.

And with each little victory, each time someone’s dignity is honored, we taste righteousness and our appetite for God’s kingdom tends to grow.

Jesus’ establishment of this principle that brings about God’s reign is not limited to the time when the Sermon on the Mount was proclaimed.

Today there are some people who are so hungry for righteousness – for liberating justice for all – that they have changed the direction of their entire life. Such people pay the price to feel the satisfaction and happiness that accompanies freedom.

They are the ones who take time off work and travel great distances to protest discrimination and violence and to stand in solidarity with the oppressed who are demanding the protection of their human rights.

The craving for righteousness brings out bold beliefs and behaviors in some people. They ask tough questions: Could departments be defunded? Could water, food and school cost nothing? As the hungry change systems, people are set free.

Perhaps you know people in your community like this, people who feel the cost yet continue and give tirelessly for the sake of righteousness.

Maybe you are one of those who hungers, and you feel happiness while your passion feeds your pursuit. According to Jesus, you will be satisfied.

With all the beatitudes, Jesus established what we hunger for and how we eat in an ordinary day. Satisfaction comes from seeing we all have a part to play in God’s new way.

When Jesus gave us the beatitudes and enacted the new law of love, he did more than provide a formula for happiness for us; he defined what the reign of God looks like.

Whether we’re running errands or standing in a picket line, we can dedicate ourselves to co-creating the world that God intended, trusting that God will satisfy our hunger for righteousness.

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Sister Julia Walsh is a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration who is part of The Fireplace Community in Chicago. She serves as a spiritual director and vocation minister. She blogs and podcasts at

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