Sometimes, “righteousness” is a hard word to chew on. It sounds very black and white, right and wrong, harsh and yet easy. It makes it sound like it should be so obvious. But when my righteous anger conflicts with your righteous anger…who’s right? It seems like it feeds this division and this angry, divisive rightness. Cuz, let’s face it: everyone’s right.
Maybe we’ve heard too often of acts done in the name of God, whoever’s God, for the sake of righteousness, that we’ve found…appalling and we’re not quite able to digest this. Righteous never seems to sit alone. It always seems to be bookended with “anger” and “self”.
Perhaps this is why we see translations that have changed to better meet the modern reader. To not be “perfectly” literal translations, but to get the the heart of what Jesus would ask us of us in the context of our modern world. Instead of righteousness, we have: “Because they do what God asks.” and “for Goodness’ sake.”
This Beatitude brings us to the place of action in the world. To not just work for the things close to us, but the things beyond us. Perhaps “for Goodness sake” and doing “what God would ask of us” is a somewhat individual, unique thing. Perhaps it begins in our own pure hearts. Finding what matters most in our hearts and then giving our best to that Good Work. What is our Good Work in this world? What do we care most about in this world? What kind of a world would we like to see this world become?
That’s where we begin to act. By working toward each of our loves, we make the world a more wonderful place, but it’s not always easy. Giving our best to what matters most is exhausting and it opens us up to criticism that is hard to bear. Perhaps this is why we do the heart work first, strengthening our hearts for God. It’s heartbreaking when people don’t believe as strongly, and don’t even care about, what we believe in so very, very strongly.
Think about that for a moment. What is it we care deeply about? Perhaps it’s the environment, animals, something in social justice, hunger, mental health, guns…take a moment to think of something we feel right and strong about. Something that seems so obviously…so obviously important. A no-brainer.
Notice our reaction when it is brushed aside as unimportant, or unacknowledged, made fun of, or lashed out at. We feel persecuted and abused. We are hurt, because it matters so much to us, and our ‘guards” come up. Often anger. “But, I’m right…”. Righteous anger gives us permission to fight back or walk away and not bother with these “other people”.
But no work gets done. We just create more divide. And that’s actually…easy. We come back to our happy, understanding group and complain about so and so who doesn’t understand and is ruining the world. Right? We all do it. (Aside: remember, sometimes the right thing to do IS walk away, we don’t have to join every battle we’re invited to, but we have to walk away with awareness and sometimes grab Courage and step in to debate with awareness).
What if we did something different? What if we didn’t take it personally? What if we could distance ourselves from our hurt and anger and stay and talked with this person instead of turning red or walking away? What if we asked questions and listened to the answers? That’s really, really hard work. What if we listened and maybe repeated a little prayer to ourselves as we do so: “This challenge is bringing me closer to Grace. This challenge is bringing me closer to Grace.” Perhaps this Beatitude is a mantra in the midst of the hard work.
When we come at others ready to listen instead of running (anger is also a feels-more-powerful way of running away), we learn and grow. We might find that all we learn is to be a little stronger in ourselves. We might find that we learn something more about the “other side”, which when looked at closer might not be quite as evil as we thought it to be. We might find that we go away reflecting; we think and learn and discover ways to better counter the arguments of the “other side”. We learn to have better conversations around our work.
We might find this other person isn’t so evil, just looking at life and the world differently. By listening, perhaps they will begin to look at the world a little bit through your eyes. Maybe they are thoughtless. Maybe they are uneducated about the issue. Maybe they are guided by a fear of something that’s stronger than what you have to say. Maybe they are holding on to an anger from a previous encounter that they no longer listen to anyone on… “your side”.
It is easier to step away or bite back. Yes, it’s easier to walk away. When we walk away, we don’t have to listen to what is hurtful about what we care about. But also, we don’t have to change. We fear that we might learn something that we would have to contemplate. That we might be…wrong…or not as “right” as we thought we were. We might begin to understand that nothing is quite so right and wrong as we thought. That people are people and we have more in common with all people than we don’t. Yep, storming away and biting back is easy.
Slinging stones and hate is our primal, automatic response, not our wise response. As we come to this action part of the Beatitudes, we all know that to fight hate with hate only breeds more hate and darker, deeper dividing lines. Hate for hate a) never works and b) is not the path of Grace or the path of Jesus.
Ironically, try suggesting a path of Love. Try bringing kindness to the spotlight. And watch the responses. Pollyanna. That won’t get anything done. That’s weak. That not for this issue (implying that this is too important to treat it that way that Jesus would). What makes love and kindness so scary that we choose division, war, hate, anger, and judgement? What are we accomplishing when we allow righteousness to become anger?
Maybe we’ve been taught to think love is too soft. Deep down, in our hearts, we know that’s not true. We know what happens at the end of the Jesus Story. There’s nothing soft about it, but there is something powerful about love in the face of so much fear and anger. That’s love. That’s the path of change. That is the path we have chosen.
What happens if we do Good Work, behave every day the way God would ask, and walk a gentle path of Jesus? What if we love everyone without exception and treat people as if we love everyone without exception? When we can transform ourselves to be an example of a quiet force for love and goodness, we are on the Path to God and a force for everlasting peace. Perhaps, just maybe, each and every single one of us, without exception, is needed on this path to Grace. Together.