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In ancient Greek medicine, eight conditions of human illness are recognized. Each of the eight beatitudes describe one of these extreme conditions. The first four Beatitudes are based on an absence of air, water, fire and earth. The second four center on an excess, in the same order: air, water, fire and earth.
The Fourth Beatitude
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled."
Appetite is a natural, persistent, and healthy urge which helps us sustain the vitality of our bodies. But when we lack earth, how will we grow food to eat? The history of the sustenance of Athens was a story of feast and famine.
Early in her campaigns, Athens had sacrificed her surrounding farmlands to the cause of her wars. Siege was a deadly technique of warfare directed at civilians, cutting off access to food and supplies and slowly starving the population of a city into submission. Athens besieged enemy cities without mercy, and her own enemies inflicted the same punishment on her in turn. Since the beginning of the Peleponnesian wars, Athens had depended on her superior fleet of graceful and swift triremes for access to food and supplies.
Without her ships bringing sustenance from afar, Athens would never have survived those years. Her citizens would not have had food for the table, and Athenian high society would not have been able to offer the hospitality of the symposia: dinner parties offered as feasts for both the body and the mind. No one entertaining in Athens forgot the spirits, either--plenty of wine was served at a symposium.
By 405 BC, Sparta had at last developed a naval force to exceed that of Athens, and for once the warring city of Athens faced a siege both by land and sea.
When the Peloponnesian wars finally drew to an end in 404 BC, it was because large numbers of Athenians were dying of starvation daily.
The very wealthiest and most influential in Greek society--those who excelled--the best of the best, or as they thought,the most favored by the gods--were described as "makarioi." This is the same word that Jesus used for "blessed."
Jesus uses a word that we translate somewhat optimistically as "hunger"--the English word might indicate no more than an ordinary healthy appetite, contrasting with the Greek term used, "peinotes," more accurately suggesting one famished, pining, suffering want, needy--impoverished. The Greek word we have translated as "thirst"--"dispsao," likewise carries a connotation of suffering.
The word Jesus uses for "satisfied" swings to the other side of the spectrum, which is one reason why I find the Beatitudes so passionate. The Greeks, it was said, loved moderation, but Jesus loved extremes. "Chortazo" means not just having enough, but more than enough. Filled, fattened--simply having no more room for another bite.
Because Athens lacked the earth to feed her citizens, she provided sustenance for them by way of her navy. The symposia of the upper classes offered food for the body, conversation for the mind, and wine, it was said, for the spirit.
In the fourth Beatitude, Jesus points out that those of us who overlook our starvation for righteousness neglect the deepest needs of our souls, which he more than satisfies.
Click here for a study of the fifth Beatitude.