Pursuing Righteousness

by Lois Tverberg

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied…. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:6,10-12

Prison Cell

What did Jesus mean by saying that those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness possess the Kingdom of Heaven? Knowing more about the biblical language will allow us to dig deeper.

The Greek word for “persecute” is dioko, which can also mean “pursue.” The parallel word in Hebrew is radaf, which also conveys both meanings — to pursue and to persecute. As a result, this passage could be just as easily rendered, “Blessed are those who are pursued because of righteousness.”

Interestingly, in Hebrew, if a person is “pursued” by something, it can be an idiom expressing eagerness, anxious expectation, or a passionate desire for something — like saying that we are “consumed” by a passion or goal. (1) So, this sentence could speak about being consumed by the desire for righteousness, as much as it expresses the idea of being persecuted by others because of righteousness.

If this alternative meaning is true, then this verse is a close parallel to Matthew 5:6, which speaks of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (tzedakah), and it would be a strong allusion to two passages from Jesus’ scriptures:

Justice, and only justice (also tzedakah), you shall pursue (radaf), that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you. Deuteronomy 16:20

Listen to me, you who pursue (radaf) righteousness (tzedakah) and who seek the LORD… Isaiah 51:1

Of course, the very next verse of the beatitudes (Matthew 5:11) is definitely about persecution – about insults and libel and ill-treatment by others. But yet “pursued for the sake righteousness” is ambiguous, whether it speaks of the person’s passion, or of mistreatment by others.

Could it be that Jesus was actually combining the two ideas into one? Will those who are passionate about righteousness face persecution because of it? Certainly Jesus’ first followers faced no end to persecution for their great commitment to him, and in our own century, many Christians have experienced great persecution for his sake. All those suffering for the Lord’s name can take comfort knowing that their dedication and faithfulness does not go unnoticed. He says, “Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven!”

(1) R. Buth, Pursuing Righteousness, at www.jerusalemperspective.com.(Premium Content Membership needed for access)

Photo: Sathyan Velumani

Blessed Are…

by Lois Tverberg

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:3

The beatitudes in Matthew 5 are beautiful, but their meanings are not always clear to us. The first word of every statement is usually translated “blessed,” although some translations use the word “happy” instead. In Greek the word is makarios, and in Hebrew the word would have been “ashrei,” as it is found in many sayings the Old Testament, for instance:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers. Psalm 1:1

Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Psalm. 32:1

Content ChildIn Hebrew, the word ashrei does mean “happy” or “contented,” but not in the sense of short-term, shallow pleasure. It means a sense of knowing deeply that God’s favor rests on you, because God approves of how you live. When the word is plural, as it is in both verses above, it is to express great intensity. It is like saying, “Oh how wonderfully satisified and pleased a person can be when…”

In the beatitudes Jesus highlights the heart-felt joy of God’s favor in light of many circumstances that we would certainly not expect to give a person pleasure in our world. Who would want to be poor in spirit, meek, mourning, or persecuted? But Jesus was teaching that it is precisely when we have the least amount of approval from the world, that God pours out his greatest approval on us. When we are living life as it was meant to be lived, we can then know we are pleasing our Father in Heaven. This will lead to a sense of contentment and joy like no other!

Photo: Yvette T.