Tuesday, September 8, 2009

4th Beatitude (Continued): Justice

We are continuing with our discussion of Saint Gregory’s sermon on the 4th Beatitude, Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall have their fill.

Continuing our commentary on the Beatitudes by Saint Gregory of Nyssa:

In the last post we learned that we must not think of justice in the normal sense. That of a fair judge treating everyone equally, or of a person with power or resources acting with equality assumes an inequality. Justice has to do with our salvation and everyone whether rich or poor, powerful of a slave can have justice in the eyes of God if they hunger for it.

This justice we are to hunger for involves keen discernment of God’s will. Gregory uses one of the temptations Christ experienced in his retreat to the desert. The devil used Christ’s human hunger for food as a temptation when he commanded Jesus to turn the stones into bread to satisfy his hunger on this long fast. To desire to turn stones into food when God had provided us the means to make bread and other food from seeds planted in soil, is a distortion of our natural desire for the means of our physical sustenance. For Christ to agree to this command He would be using his hunger to go beyond what God has provided or intended for us. This would be avarice, letting our desire led to things that go beyond our necessities of life. This is unjust.

Gregory speaks of how we are led to succumb to similar temptations in our daily life. He writes,

Now people eat food made from stones if their meals betray their avarice, because from their unjust gains they procure for themselves luxurious dishes worth fabulous sums, and the paraphernalia of their dinners are designed only for show so as to impress people, since they far outstrip the necessities of life. For what relation to the needs of nature has this silver which no one can eat and which is displayed in such quantities that it can hardly be carried?

In other words, we act without justice when we use resources God has given us for pleasures that are not a necessity. We can observe in our own lives how we let our hunger for food go beyond what is necessary. It is God’s intention for our hunger to led us to nutritious food, but not beyond this. Our excesses led us to injustice. We can easily let our desires take us beyond what is necessary. In our hunger for justice we must over come temptations by constraining our desires for things of this world. limiting them to that which is necessary. We do not what to eliminate desire but to control it to act with justice.

Gregory writes:

He who overcomes temptation does not eliminate hunger from nature, as if that were a cause of evil. He only removes the worry and fuss which the counsel of the enemy causes to enter together with the need, and leaves nature to adjust itself within its own limits. To give an example: Those who filter the wine do not reject the good liquid on account of the foam mixed up with it; they separate the superfluous matter with a strainer, but do not refuse to use what is pure.

We still need to clarify what the food that the soul desires. Gregory points us to Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman.

And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why are You talking with her?”

The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Then they went out of the city and came to Him. In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. (John 27-34)

My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” To hunger for justice is to do the will of God. This is the kind of food Jesus instructed His disciples to hunger after.

Gregory says, “For if a man has desired the justice of God, he has found what is truly to be desired. And he satisfies this desire not only in one of the forms this appetite can take; for He wants us to partake of justice not only as food…Therefore the Word expresses thus the highest desire for the Good and calls blessed those who suffer both hunger and thirst for justice. For the coveted object is great enough to meet the desire in both ways: grace becomes solid food to the hungry, and drink if a man be drawn to it by thirst.”

But what is it that God wants us to do?

More to come….

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