Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
(Matthew 5: 6)
It is so easy for us to focus on the conjunction of “hunger and thirst” with “they shall be satisfied.” We may even want to skip over that “for righteousness” part. So many other verses in the Bible speak of how God watches out for us and provides for our needs that we just want to stay with that. But even though Jesus will say something about that later, that’s not what he’s saying here.
Instead, He’s talking about something else.
“Righteousness.” What is that to us, in this day and age?
The New English translation says “those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail.” Is that enough? The New Living Translation says “hunger and thirst for justice.” So what does “righteousness” really mean to us these days? According to the dictionary (I do like going back to that resource), to be “righteous” is to be “acting in accord with divine or moral law; arising from an outraged sense of justice or morality; genuine, excellent.” That is more than mere “justice” at the least.
There’s something bigger here than having things right in a worldly sense. Social justice is about balance in society. It doesn’t have much to do with balance between us and God. But it isn’t too surprising that we try to downplay the nature of “righteousness.” How far we have come from divine law! Even “moral law” is getting ground down. We live in a society that mostly focuses on just “law,” the civil regulations we have drawn up to make social interactions run smoothly.
People worry about what is legal, what they can do legally. Far too many people have stopped thinking about whether their actions are moral. Having an affair may not be moral, but the legal consequences of the action are dependent on what the people involved choose to make of them. Even fewer people consider anything related to divine concerns.
But Jesus speaks of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – those things which God considers right or wrong. Jesus challenges us here. He makes us look beyond what society expects, He wants us to look to God Himself.
To hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God. That’s a far stronger desire than merely wanting things to be right.
I have a bad habit of not drinking enough, of anything, but especially of water. I get wrapped up in my activities, and don’t take a drink of anything. But then there comes a moment when I pick up my filled water bottle and drink. Not sip, not taste, but drink. The immediacy of water is a wonderful thing in the body. We don’t linger tasting flavors, it goes straight down, and our bodies absorb it into the system easily. It refreshes us.
And hunger, what about that? For most Americans, being really hungry isn’t an issue. They can have access to food fairly easily. It might not be wonderful to taste, but it can be sustaining. We very rarely have to do without. But say the day comes when there isn’t much food at hand, nor the means of getting any. If we’re not being particularly active, we can hold on for a time. If we don’t burn many calories, our bodies can draw on reserves stored up. But eventually we need more protein.
It is hard to step back and realize our body needs real food, not just the incidental fuel that carbohydrates provide. We’re hungry for true sustenance at that point, and when we get it, we know we have all that we need for the next day or so.
This is what Jesus is talking about: those who want God that way, who need to drink in the righteousness of God. He praises those who want God so much that they want and need to drink Him right into their very being. He praises those who need God as their daily sustenance, to fuel them through all their day’s labor.
Jesus calls these people blessed. But that isn’t all: they also will be satisfied.
They are not thirsting for the impossible. They are not hungering for the unattainable. They will be satisfied.
The desire for God’s engagement in their lives will be fulfilled. And it’s an engagement for a right balance in all aspects of life. Not just the worldly laws and justice working, but the divine sense of balance being exercised all around us.
Do we want that righteousness, though? In the play Hamlet, the prince chastises a courtier who says he will treat the play-actors “as they deserve.” Hamlet reproves him with “Use every man according to his desert and who should 'scape whipping?” Far too often we hunger for fairness (meaning we are not the one who loses). Far too often we hunger for revenge and call our desire justice. Far too often the balance we seek is that those who have oppressed us should suffer as we have suffered.
But the righteousness of God is available to all. Are we willing to give up our desire to dictate to God whom He can bless?
For a statement that seemed easy at the beginning, this has turned more complicated. And yet, here it is, something Jesus is upholding as highly desireable. To hunger and thirst after righteousness, God’s sense of what is right or wrong. It requires that we let ourselves become hungry and thirsty in a very specific way. But it also promises something quite remarkable: it promises that we will be satisfied. How can we not want that?