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This is the fifth in a series of post on the beatitudes, here are the other posts in this series:
Matthew 5:6 says:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Think about the last time you were hungry. I mean like really hungry. Like, so hungry you couldn’t really focus on what you were doing, if that’s ever happened to you. Perhaps you have an easier time remembering the last time you were so thirsty you couldn’t focus—that works, too.
It happened to me earlier this week. Every day, I get home from work at about four o’clock, and Susie gets home from work at about six o’clock. But on Tuesday, Susie had to go to the grocery store after work and before we made dinner, so she didn’t make it home until eight o’clock.
I’ve been trying to eat less and more healthily, so the few pretzels I had at about five o’clock were going to have to last me until she got home from the grocery store. I was doing homework from the time I got home until she did, and man, toward the end there, I was so hungry I could barely focus on what I was reading.
The inescapable brokenness of the world must not prevent our pursuit of perfection.
Have you ever been so hungry to be more like Christ that you couldn’t really focus on much else?
Probably not. At least, I know I haven’t ever had that sort of laser focus in my pursuit of Christlikeness before.
Here, in the fourth beatitude, Jesus is commending those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and says that they will be satisfied, that their hunger and thirst will be satisfied.
It’s pretty simple, isn’t it? I mean, just think about when you’re hungry for food or thirsty for drink.
You ate a granola bar on your way to work, but you were so busy throughout the day, you didn’t have time for lunch. It’s six o’clock, you’re on your way home, and the thought of the chicken parmesan you’re having for dinner taunting you like a carrot before a horse.
You just finished the first 5k you’ve ever run. They had water halfway through the race, but you weren’t in a position to grab a cup and slosh it down. You’ve just stumbled across the finish line and, if it weren’t for the pursuit of a bottle of water or Gatorade, you’d be on the ground in a heap.
You know what it feels like to be desperately hungry or so thirsty your voice is going hoarse, so just apply the imagery to righteousness.
Perhaps it would be easier if we looked at what “righteousness” means.
What does “righteousness” mean?
Kent Hughes in his ever-helpful Sermon on the Mount commentary that I’ve cited a number of times in our examination of the beatitudes explains two different sorts of righteousness we see in Scripture and which one is being talked about here:
Some have supposed that it is the objective righteousness described in Romans that God reckons to the believer’s account, sometimes called “imputed righteousness”…(Romans 1:17; 3;21, 22)…However while righteousness is foundational to every believer’s salvation, that is not what is meant here.
Others have confined the meaning to social righteousness, the righteous treatment of the poor and oppressed. This is certainly part of the meaning…However, the root meaning here is…a subjective righteousness, an inner righteousness that works itself out in one’s living in conformity to God’s will—righteous living. (40)
I concur with Hughes here. The righteousness given to us by God is not one for which we must hunger—we already have it. The righting of injustices is certainly worth thirsting for, and is at play here, but to limit it to simply social righteousness would be missing some of the idea.
Ultimately, as Hughes summarizes, “To hunger and thirst for this righteousness means longing after the practical righteousness that the Beatitudes represent both personally and in the world” (emphasis mine, ibid.).
Hungering and thirsting for righteousness means you reform yourself to become more like Christ and you attempt to improve the world around you to more resemble the kingdom of God, which Jesus will continue to lay out in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount following the beatitudes.
We cannot achieve perfection, personally or in our communities—sin is too pervasive. However, the inescapable brokenness of the world must not prevent our pursuit of perfection.
Jesus promises that, despite our brokenness, our hunger and thirst for righteousness “will be satisfied.”
I am a task-, goal-oriented person. Working on a project without a defined goal or end is frustrating for me. Even if I don’t like what I’m doing for a given project, if I have a goal, I’ll be happy.
For instance, I used some of my Christmas money to buy a Fitbit. I don’t mind working out (I just lack the time), and I hate eating healthy. One of the hardest parts about working out or eating healthy is that it’s often so ambiguous. “Just eat healthy.” “Just work out.” That doesn’t work with me. I have to have a goal, and the Fitbit definitely helps with that.
The promises of God propel us in our pursuit of righteousness.
Similarly, “pursuing righteousness” or more clearly, “trying to become more like Jesus,” is sorta ambiguous too. However, Jesus says that those who are chasing after righteousness will catch it.
When your ultimate goal in life, the goal of everything you do, is to become more like Christ and thereby reflect him, everything else tends to fall into place. Really. I promise.
I’m not saying life gets easy and all of your troubles fall away. Not at all. In fact, the pursuit of righteousness comes often at a higher cost than the pursuit of personal promotion. The satisfaction Jesus promises for the pursuit of righteousness is not exempt from some pain along the way.
But, when your end is Christlikeness, certain decisions we have and certain problems we face are more easily solved. Here are a few examples:
Unsure of what college to attend? Does either hinder your pursuit of righteousness? No? Pick one. It doesn’t make a difference.
Unsure of which girl/boy to pursue a relationship with? Does she/he hinder your pursuit of righteousness? Yes? Well there goes one option.
Unsure of what career to pursue? Does one hinder your pursuit of righteousness? Skip that one, pick a more neutral one.
Were your feelings hurt by a best friend? Are you unsure of how to respond? Jesus would love the person anyway. Problem solved.
I know those may have seemed like over-simplifications of serious life decisions and issues, but really, when your one goal is to become more like Jesus and help the world become more like the kingdom of God, knowing which decision is best is easy, but it doesn’t always mean acting on it is easy.
Thankfully, the promises of God make it clear that, though we may never achieve our goal of righteousness in complete perfection in our present life, we know that we will be satisfied in our eternal one.
Jesus says to his disciples, and I think to all of us, in Luke 22:28-30:
You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Praise God that when you and I hunger and thirst for righteousness, amidst painful trials and joyous victories, Jesus has promised a place at the table in glory. Keep your eyes there.
The promises of God propel us in our pursuit of righteousness.