Here is a secret. I like food. Usually I eat when I’m hungry, but sometimes I eat just because I think I want something. Jesus must have known this would be the case. Here we are talking about the beatitudes at lunch during lent and today’s beatitude tells us “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Unfortunately, I know that my appetite for righteousness is not always as strong as my appetite for these sandwiches we’re eating here today. My appetite for righteousness is not always what it should be.
Mom and I celebrate our birthdays just two days apart. On account of that we have often shared birthday celebrations. Sometimes we have gone out to eat. While growing up, eating out often meant a place like Wendy’s. On special occasions, we might have gone to the Ponderosa. But on one memorable birthday, when I was in my teens, it was decided we would go to the Red Lobster.
We had driven past the Red Lobster many times. We knew what it was, it was a place for other people to eat while we were at Wendy’s. But not on this birthday. On this birthday we were Red Lobster people. Our family of six walked in like we belonged there. It was exciting. It felt like going to the fair or some other event. This was a special occasion.
We received the menus, we looked them over, and when the server came Dad ordered a sampler. The sampler was good. I tried lobster for the first time, crab for the first time, scallops for the first time. But we had not really done our homework, this sampler was not intended for a family of six, and we couldn’t afford Red Lobster prices. It was the hungriest birthday ever. I think we left that night and went to Wendy’s.
But I knew from that day that I loved seafood. I had enough of a taste to make me want it again. Perhaps that is why I join a group of friends who share this love and occasionally drive down to the MD border just to eat seafood. Honestly, its too far to drive and costs too much, but still we do it because we have a hunger for seafood.
That gets us on track for what Jesus is talking about. When he talks about a hunger and thirst for righteousness, he is not talking about choosing righteousness off a menu as if there are other options just as good. Jesus is interested in a hunger that makes you willing to drive too far and spend too much. Jesus is interested in a hunger that causes you pains until you get your fill. Jesus wants to know if after sampling small portions with your family of six, have you developed a lifetime appetite for righteousness?
To hunger and thirst for something implies some risk. To hunger and thirst implies there is something you need or else you will die. Jesus is suggesting you can’t live in the kingdom of God without this righteousness.
These beatitudes come to us as blessings and they help us to understand what it is like to live in a different kingdom – the kingdom of heaven. This kingdom is marked by people who live in certain ways. And this beatitude tells us the kingdom of heaven looks like people who want righteousness so badly they can taste it. And once they get a taste for it, they want more of it, they would be willing to drive far and spend much just to have it. There is nothing they want more, they would sell everything just to have it.
Jesus wants us to become this kind of people. He doesn’t want us to wait until heaven to behave like this – he prays “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus wants us to desire this stuff now.
Righteousness becomes important in the gospel. Not too many verses later, Jesus says “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness.” Then, “your righteousness should exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.” Then, “don’t practice your righteousness in order to be seen by others.” And then, after telling us not to worry about food and drink and what to wear, he says, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness… and these things will be added.” As it turns out, this righteousness is very important stuff.
Perhaps a starter definition is in order. With help from Scot McKnight, here is a place to begin; 1) righteousness is listening to Jesus, 2) righteousness focuses on God first and not on the approval of others, 3) righteousness is the way kingdom citizens live in a world full of people who do not live that way.
Welcome to the world of righteousness! Or as Matthew would say “Welcome to the kingdom of heaven!”
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” God knows what we need. God knows we need food and drink (maybe even some occasional seafood), God knows what we need in order to live and wants us to know that greater than any other needs is our need for righteousness. Perhaps the question for us is “how far are we willing to drive for that?”