I have a confession. I have been binge-watching the first season of the Netflix series Daredevil. I know, I know. I am supposed to be doing something more constructive with my spare time. Perhaps reading great literature. Or maybe writing great literature. Instead, I am hunkered down in my chair in front of the television. Don’t judge me.
Ok, go ahead and judge me. What do I care? There is something appealing about the show’s blind hero with his soft-spoken manner. He is a warrior for justice. Which, as far as I can tell, means beating the crap out of people. This seems to me to be a vision which resonates with our age. We have become a vigilante culture. If we don’t like the outcome of due process we simply take matters into our own hands. This is a view which essentially equates justice with bullying. Since Daredevil does not actually exist, today’s justice warriors must take their own measures, which more and more look like the punishment of the mob. This is true whether it is the virtual mob, whose posts on social media endeavor to shout and shame, or the literal mob that surrounds someone whose views they oppose in an effort to intimidate.
This modern view of justice is sharply discordant from the one described in the fourth beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). The New Testament word which is translated “righteousness” can also mean “justice.” The difference with Jesus’ view is not His vocabulary so much as His angle of vision. What passes for justice today focuses primarily on what others are doing. It aims to call them to account. Jesus’ beatitude seems to turn the spotlight in the opposite direction.
Indeed, Jesus’ vision is not a spotlight at all but a hunger that gnaws from within. The righteousness He describes is a burning thirst that longs to be slaked. It is a compelling desire focused not on where others have gone wrong but upon myself. Instead of being imposed from without, this is a vision of a justice which springs from within. It is the picture of a world where I want to do right. More than this, it offers a radically reconfigured view of myself. It suggests a new creation where I not only do right but I am right.
I am not. At least, not in the way that Jesus describes it here. Perhaps that is why I can be so captivated by a cartoonish vision of justice. The fantasy is a momentary distraction from the harsh reality that my own hunger and thirst for righteousness are tepid and infrequent. Oh, I want you to do good, especially where your dealings have to do with me. But I do not always want to be good. I need more than a different moral agenda. I need an entirely new moral constitution.
What I need is the righteousness that Jesus describes in the beatitudes. It is a righteousness He promises to provide for anyone who hands their diseased and diminished moral appetite over to Him. Jesus’ promise of righteousness puts the lie to the comic book fantasy that we can overcome the darkness by taking up its own weapons and turning them against it. Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Don’t fear the darkness, overcome it. But before you can do this you will need to be overcome by something else. It what Jesus calls a hunger and thirst for righteousness.