“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:5)
We all know what it’s like to feel hungry or thirsty. Right now, my tummy is grumbling at me, and I’m finding it difficult to not think about the packet of giant chocolate buttons I have stashed away in the kitchen. However, Jesus is not talking about your average, every day tummy grumble. He’s talking about a deep, deep longing. Think more like wandering through the desert with no water, or going a few days without food. That’s the kind of level of hunger and thirst he meant. The kind that completely consumes your every thought and desire. In Jesus’ day, food wasn’t so readily available to people as it is today. We have the luxury of 24-hour supermarkets, take-outs and home deliveries, so we miss the urgency Jesus intended in this verse.
When it comes to ‘righteousness’, I had always assumed this verse was talking about a desire for social justice. However, as mentioned in an article on theologyofwork.org, in ancient Judaism, righteous meant ‘to acquit, vindicate, restore to a right relationship’. So it’s actually about maintaining right relationships with God and with the people around us. As R.T. France points out in his commentary, it is a desire for “a relationship of obedience and trust with God…it is personal aspiration, not a desire for social justice”. It is much more than our definition of righteousness today, that says it is about being “morally right or justifiable; acting in an upright, moral way”. It is about living in a way that is faithful to the Word of God. In Romans 1:17 we read: “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’. That said, if we are to be more like Jesus, our hearts must be moved by the many injustices that exist so prominently in our world. So, whilst Jesus may not have been specifically talking about social justice here, it is a by-product of seeking a right relationship with God.
The other thing I am learning about the Beatitudes is that, whilst you can read them as standalone verses, they actually link together. Being aware of our spiritual neediness and dependence on God (poor in spirit), leads us to mourn over our sin. Those who mourn are meek (the opposite of arrogance, jealousy and selfish ambition) and refuse to exalt themselves. So if we are aware of our sin and weakness, we should be led to restore our relationship with God. The only way to get rid of hunger or thirst is to actively do something about it. But what? As Oswald Chambers puts it: “there is only one Being who can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ”. Jesus invites us to communion with himself and the Father. This is what we should be chasing after. The things of this world are like the chocolate buttons in my kitchen. They are a great snack and will stop the grumbling, but only for a little while. What I need to satisfy my hunger, to be filled, is a great, big, roast dinner-sized, relationship with God. That is the only thing that will satisfy the deepest longing of our souls. As Matthew 6:33 says “So above all, constantly chase after the realm of God’s kingdom and the righteousness that proceeds from him. Then all these less important things will be given to you abundantly”.
So what’s stopping us? Well, one thing could be sloth (the deadly sin, not the animal!). As I mentioned in a previous blog, I’m currently reading ‘Seven’ by Jeff Cook. He talks about this verse in opposition to the deadly sin of Sloth. Cook says that sloth is not mere laziness, or restfulness; rather it is indifference, towards our souls, our neighbours, our world, or God. He writes “Sloth finds those things that we were made to enjoy and pursue to be useless and boring…Sloth alone will keep us from the life we are made for. Sloth will praise the ruts we dig, and even when we know they are unhealthy, sloth will tell us this is just the way life is. But it is a lie. We are made to overflow with life”.
Dante, in his book ‘The Divine Comedy: Purgitorio’, calls sloth a failure to love God with all our heart, mind and soul. He says we should think of sloth as a hell-like condition, for those given to it, fail to live. Sloth is content to aim us towards either apathy or fanaticism.
We can see this echoed in the Parable of the Bags of Gold (Matthew 25:14 – 30) in which a master entrusted a number of bags of gold to 3 of his servants. 2 of the servants invested and increased the money. The third did not. The 2 who had gained money were invited to share in the master’s joy and were elevated out of slavery. The third servant was thrown out into the street. Cook says “that servant’s heart had grown far from the master’s concerns. His failure was inactivity”.
We must not give in to the lies sloth tells us that “This is just how life is. There’s nothing I can do to change it”. We must, instead, listen to the rumbling of our hearts, and allow ourselves, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to uproot our sin and become more like Jesus. We must take what has been given to us: grace, mercy, love, joy, hope, and let it grow. We need to act. We need to be passionate. Indifference keeps us snacking. Only when we become passionate about what really matters (living a life with a restored relationship with God) will we feast. Perhaps we can re-write the verse as “deeply satisfied are those who seek to restore their relationship with God”.
We don’t have to do this alone. Luke 11:9-10 says: “So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” – it is who you ask, where you seek and what door you knock on that makes all the difference.
So, my question to you is, where are you looking to satisfy your deepest longing? Are you at the vending machine or are you sitting at the Lord’s table ready for a feast?