Eager to Please
                           by Lois Tverberg

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Matthew 5:6

In the beatitudes, Jesus speaks about those who are hungry and thirsty to do God's will, who greatly desire to see God use them to accomplish his mission on earth. As part of this message which is part the Sermon on the Mount, he tightens the laws, pointing out that anger is as bad as murder, and that lust is as bad as adultery. Many of us believe that Jesus was teaching an audience full of legalists that God cared more about the heart than about outward action, which is what they were focusing on. Or that Jesus' main point was to show that God's standards are so high as to be unachievable - that we should give up on trying to do the right thing, but just trust in God's forgiveness in Christ instead.

Knowing more about his culture can shed light on this message - that Jesus actually may have been focusing on something else, which fits better with the rest of his words in this passage. Jesus may have been focusing on the idea of hasidut - (hah-see-DOOT), a rabbinic term which is often translated "piety." It really means to walk intimately with God and live entirely to serve him. It means to eagerly obey God out of love, asking the question, "What more can I do to please you?" As Jesus said, "Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your father in heaven." (Mt 5:16)

Part of this idea is that a hasid (hah-SEED), a "pious one" also would go far out of his way to avoid sin, for fear of grieving God's spirit and breaking the communion that one has with God. As a result, a person tightened his own standards and lived beyond the minimum, to make sure he is within God's will. Through Jesus' many commands that tightened the laws, he was pointing us toward asking what is the maximum we can do to please God, not what is the minimum required by the Law. So great should our love be for God that we'd tear out our eyes rather than be led by sin away from him. We should be persons of such honesty and that we never need to take a vow - our yes is always yes, and our no, always no. We don't just love our friends, we are loving even to those who are hateful. This should be our goal, even if we aren't that way right now.

One modern orthodox Jewish commentary describes a hasid this way:

The hasid is one who goes beyond the letter of the law in his service of G-d. He does not do only what he is told, but he looks for ways to fulfill G-d's will. This requires intelligence and planning; one must anticipate just what G-d wants of him and how he can best use his own talents in service of his Creator. As we also saw, this was in direct contrast to the mock-piety - fasting, wailing, rolling in the snow, etc.... G-d has no interest in senseless service - that we do things just because they're hard (and get us a lot of notice). Piety is not doing things which hurt. It is careful, planned and responsible service of G-d. We are not to sacrifice ourselves for G-d with self-destructive acts of devotion; we are to *live* for Him - as responsible, thinking beings who make intelligent choices in our religious service. We are to maximize our potential -- and to use that potential in service of our Creator.1

Jesus' words are a description of what our goal is to become as followers of him. As we grow closer, our desire is to have nothing come between us. And the first thing that we pursue is God's will, not our own.

1 Adapted from http://www.torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos/chapter2-10and11c.html. The reason that orthodox Jewish sites spell the word "God" with a hyphen is out of reverence for God, for the same reason that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God as the Kingdom of Heaven - to not overuse the holy name of God. (This itself is an example of piety - hasidut!) See Bivin, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, pp.55-58, (En-Gedi, 2005) for more on the practice.

The idea of hasidut as it was understood in Jesus' time is explained in much more depth in an excellent talk called, "Jesus, the Sin-Fearer" by David Pileggi, as part of the Insights into Jesus of Nazareth DVD Series.

     
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6 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All rights
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