It’s been awhile since I last wrote a blog! I’ve been working on a larger literary piece which has taken up most of my time, but I am thankful for a moment to be able to share some thoughts with you again. As you know, I teach a group of college and young adults at my church. The last few weeks have been spent studying the beatitudes. My interest in these profound few verses was peaked after hearing a sermon a friend in ministry gave on the first beatitude “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” His message led me to sharing with our group the insights I had been gaining from my own pursuit of the word. I’ll admit, a lot of my first lesson was just repeating what he said (it was really good) but I’ve decided to gain my own insights and I want to share some with you.
This coming Sunday we’ll be studying this beatitude:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6
From the moment we begin to study the beatitudes, we have to ask this question, what does ‘blessed’ mean? Most often, ‘blessed’ is associated with ‘happy’ but let’s apply that to the beatitudes. The beatitudes are already paradoxical in and of themselves. Jesus’ assertion is that the poor in spirit are the ones who are going in inherit the kingdom of heaven doesn’t make much sense at face value and applying the word ‘happy’ instead of ‘blessed’ doesn’t help explain it much better: Happy are those who are poor in spirit?
The Greek word for ‘blessed’ here is ‘makarios’ and describes someone who is in a position to receive God’s favor. In other words, the poor in spirit are ‘blessed’ or ‘makarios’ because they have a need that our God can meet.
Hunger and thirst describe the most basic needs of existence; food and water. The feeding of the 5,000 (see Matthew 14) reminds us there is no doubt that Jesus understands the physical need for food. However, Jesus doesn’t use the terms hunger and thirst to describe a physical need. He uses them as a metaphor for a deeper, spiritual need. To a Samaritan woman at a well he offers living water which he promises will satisfy her thirst forever (John 4). To the multitudes he declared that he was the bread of life (John 6). Jesus’ answer for our spiritual thirst and hunger is to fill up on Him. He satisfies us in a way nothing else will and with Him at the center of our heart, we no longer go looking to fill the hole with anything else. The Samaritan woman who once went looking for love in all the wrong places, now finds everything she was looking for and the crowds who gather around Jesus for what He could do are now drawn to Him for who He is.
The people described in this particular beatitude hunger and thirst for something very specific; righteousness. There are a couple of different kinds of righteousness. The first is the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. Given that Jesus is constantly harping on them about this, we can safely assume that isn’t the kind of righteousness He refers to here. Another kind of righteousness involves social justice or wanting to see wrongs righted and oppression to cease. The Jewish people are a people who at this point have been oppressed by many other cultures and little do they know that in nearly 2,000 years will endure a horrible extermination attempt. Under the Romans they are heavily taxed and physically abused by guards. Righteousness is so strongly sought after, that many of the Jews had hoped and even expected the Messiah to overthrow the Roman government. Another type of righteousness reflects a commitment to holiness or excellent living.
Jesus provides the answer for both the former and latter forms of righteousness. While He didn’t overthrow the Roman government in the way the Jews had hoped, He does promise His second coming to set up a new Kingdom (Matthew 24). Furthermore, for those who hunger and thirst for righteous living, they are blessed because Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit to enable them to do so (John 14). Indeed, 1 Corinthians confirms that we are now the new temple of God, His dwelling place. When we empty ourselves of anything we seek that is not Him, we are then in a position to be filled and that is a blessed place to be!