The word peinontes, translated “hunger,” means to crave, to desperately want food, to be in a state of virtual starvation. The truth is, we are in the spiritual condition of starvation, but do not know it because we are distracted from our spirit-hunger by our external lives. The prophet Isaiah tells us that in such a state we are “as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite” (Isaiah 29:8). It is not a matter of making ourselves hunger and thirst–as it was in the Beatitude on mourning. We are already craving the food of the spirit, but are unconscious of it. Thus the first meaning is: “Blessed are those who know they are hungry and thirsty.”
The second idea this Beatitude presents to us is the genuinely desperate nature of our inner starvation. We know that without food the body dies, but give no such consideration to our inmost being. This Beatitude uses hunger and thirst as symbols because of the power of those sensations to completely override all other sensations or desires. The quest of the spirit must be the dominant factor, awareness of which pervades our every conscious moment.
A life or death matter
“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalms 42:1). This is not just a grandiose ideal, it is a dire necessity. Nothing must satisfy us but the vision of God. Nothing but that can really satisfy us, yet we waste lifetimes trying everything else but the One Thing Needed (Luke 10:38-42).
The imagery of the Psalmist is drawn from the ancient belief that deer were natural enemies of poisonous serpents which they would hunt out and swallow. The snakes would release their venom in the deer’s stomach. Thus poisoned, the deer would experience intense burning and thirst. If they did not drink water and thus dilute the poison they would die. So the deer would run about in desperation, searching for water to save their lives. For the deer it was no joke. Nor should it be for us.
Only when the spiritual aspirant comes to realize that the life in God is not just an appealing option but an absolute necessity–a matter of life and death–will he make any significant progress. We should recall the example of Jesus holding the disciple under the water to show the intensity needed in the search for God, Who said through Jeremiah: “Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). That is not an easy thing to do, for we have scattered our hearts abroad for many lives, “playing the harlot under every green tree,” as Jeremiah said more than once.
But why should it be easy? Ought not God to evoke as much interest and energy as the ephemeral goals we have set for ourselves from life to life? Why would we consider it only appropriate to struggle for the perishable things of earth, but balk at the idea of expending any effort in winning the Imperishable Absolute?
Once again, the deepening and broadening of our consciousness through meditation and spiritual practices constitutes the remedy.
The word “righteousness” (dichaiosunen) does not mean just being “good” and “nice.” Instead, it comes from the same word that means judgment and the execution of judgment. The implication is that righteousness is perfect conformity with the judgments of God and with the workings of His justice. Further, “the righteous” are not just in a passive state of harmony with the divine plan, they are actively engaged in bringing it into manifestation through applying the principles of wisdom to themselves and by discipline bringing themselves into conformity with the standards of righteousness. Being sons of God, they say with Christ: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17). For we are not to be mere passive recipients of the kingdom of God, we must actively work for its objectification, living the petition: “Thy kingdom come.”
To hunger and thirst for righteousness, then, is to intensely desire our total correspondence to the divine plan, which is that we all attain “to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
As above, so below
Just as the entire macrocosm is in labor and travail for the manifestation of the sons of God (Romans 8:19, 22), so the entire being of the individual microcosm must be bent towards the manifesting of the Christ within–not as momentary flashes or intuitions, but in Its permanent establishment on all levels of our existence. Otherwise this life will just be one more in a chain of pointless incarnations in which, like a puppy, we have simply chased our own tails. At its end–as before–we will be again thrown back into this earthly bin of spiritual rejects to be recycled once more in hope of our gaining wisdom.
The grip of ignorance
Ignorance can become a habit, even an addiction. We must shake ourselves free from it that we may “fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Again, we must feel that no price is too high to pay, that no effort is too much to put forth. Those who seek to do no more than the minimum cannot but fail, for in spiritual life the maximum is the minimum.
Those who wish to cut corners in their spiritual labors are destined to fail, for “he who offers God second place offers Him no place.” Our earnest declaration must be: “Lo, I come in the volume of the book it is written of me, to do thy will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7), the “book” being the divine blueprint for our ascension back to the Bosom of the Father.
The will of God for our perfection is “written” upon the pages of our existence, however much we may devise to not see it. It is woven into the very fabric of creation. Is it any wonder, then, that when we go against the grain of our life we encounter confusion and suffering? Surely it is time for the prodigal sons of God to remember their home and arise and go back to the Father.
The true character of righteousness
Righteousness is not a superficial appearance of “goodness” nor a high opinion of us held by ourselves and others. Righteousness is the total fulfillment of the law of God in our life–the total working out of our destiny. And since that destiny is so great–indeed infinite–we must work at its fulfillment with all our powers.
“For they shall be filled.” The term “filled” (kortadzo) means to be abundantly, even overflowingly, satisfied in the sense of having fully accomplished what was desired, with nothing more to be attained.
Nothing less than the plenitude of spiritual attainment is the intention of God for us. We read in the Psalm: “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Psalms 81:10). Lamentably, we have become so accustomed to shallowness in all things that we tend to treat Divine realization as though it is a snack requiring little more than to wish for it, with perhaps a token effort thrown in for garnish. As a result we thwart the heavenly will: “He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee” (Psalms 81:16). And no one is the loser but us.
The life of an aspirant to Christhood
From these first Beatitudes we can see that the life of one who seeks Christhood is all-consuming, that everything else must be secondary. This does not mean that we can neglect our ordinary duties–quite the contrary. When we realize that our obligations are manifestations of our karmas we also understand that we must fullfil them to the best of our ability, otherwise we will be required to return to complete them in another life.
The aspirant carries out his earthly duties just as does the non-aspirant. But the difference between the two is great. The non-aspirant complies with the demands of his daily life for exclusively selfish short-term interest, whereas the aspirant realizes that he is purifying himself through meeting his karmic debts and thus clearing his way to find God.
The seeker’s fulfillment of duties
It is especially shameful that some “spiritual” people will neglect their duties to their families–especially spouse and children–using the excuse that they do not want to be “dragged down” by worldly involvements. The Lord Jesus said that what we do to the least of human beings we do to him (Matthew 25:40). Saint Paul wrote to Saint Timothy: “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (I Timothy 5:8).
To neglect those around us is to ignore Christ. When we study the lives of the saints we see that they cared very much for the welfare of others. Those who are making viable spiritual progress will come to love their family and friends more, not less. Selfish and negative attachments will dissolve, that is true, but such bonds are no blessing to anybody.
At the same time, the saints never compromised their obligations to God to suit others. There are those who try to use their personal obligations as justification for neglecting their duty to God, even though there is no contradiction as far as our real obligations to God and man are concerned. Those who put God first are enabled to take care of everything else much better than ever before.
It is definitely possible for the aspirant to escape the bondage of rebirth in this very lifetime and ascend to Paradise–or beyond–after the death of the body. Of course, he will have to keep his perspective and his priorities straight and clear, and he must allot the necessary time. But this he also should know: where there is a will, there is a way; and where there is no will, there is no way. It is determined solely by us.
Read the next article in Gnosis of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes: Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.