Blessed are those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
In WW2 Nazi Germany created one of the biggest atrocities of all time. Concentration camps. Sure were there such things before that. Yeah, but the Germans perfected it. Perfected the torture that was taking place within those walls. Who was within those walls. Anyone that Nazi Germany thought was a threat, people they didn’t like, most of all Jews. Often times they would come in trains loaded to the brim with people. They would be taken off of the trains and marched into the concentration camp. These numbers would be tattooed on their bodies. Clothes taken and given these ragady prisoner like clothes. Prisoners received three meals per day. In the morning, they received only half a liter of “coffee,” or rather boiled water with a grain-based coffee substitute added, or “tea”—a herbal brew. These beverages were usually unsweetened. The noon meal consisted of about a liter of soup, the main ingredients of which were potatoes, rutabaga, and small amounts of groats, rye flour, and Avo food extract. The soup was unappetizing, and newly arrived prisoners were often unable to eat it, or could do so only in disgust. Supper consisted of about 300 grams of black bread, served with about 25 grams of sausage, or margarine, or a tablespoon of marmalade or cheese. The bread served in the evening was supposed to cover the needs of the following morning as well. The amount of people who died of starvation is in the millions. Starvation was a normal punishment for a prisoner. Many would lose so much weight that they were nothing but bone. And that is literal. Some had wasted away so much that they couldn’t even stand on their own . They were starving. Literally starving. When WW2 came to and end and concentration camps were beginning to be liberated the allied soldiers saw the ghost like figures of those in the camps. Soldiers began to give the prisoners their food and the prisoners would begin to eat and eat because they were starving. Craving for food. However, many prisoners would actually die because they would eat too much. Their bodies were so mal nourished that when they just ate and ate their bodies shut down and they passed. They were starving. The were hungry they were thirsty. It wasn't just a hunger and thirst they could eat a piece of bread and be satisfied or a cup of water and be good for awhile. It was something where if they didn’t get what they needed they would die.
Now I can tell you none of us have experienced that kind of hunger and thirst. We have never been on the brink of death because we haven’t been able to eat or to drink. Sure we may get really hungry or really thirsty, but a mid-afternoon snack or a good cold cup of water would usually satisfy it. I think we could all say we would never want to get to that point. The point of being so hungry and thirsty that if we don’t get food or drink we will pass. However, Jesus actually talks about this kind of hunger and tells us to have that exact hunger and thirst. However, its not talking about actual food and drink, but talking about something called righteousness. We have been going through the beatitudes in Jesus famous sermon on the mount. Talking about how each one can apply to us today and how each one can change how we see and do things in our walk with God. The next beatitude we are going to go through is Matthew 5:6.
So lets take this phrase by phrase. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” There is a lot packed into this short phrase. To really understand it we have to look at the meaning of the words used here. The first we are going to look at is that word righteousness. The greek word is dikaiosynē. Which means to have integrity, to have good virtue, to be pure, to have correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting. It is also the state of him who is as he ought to be. Not that part of the definition is what got me. The state of him who is as he ought to be. How we are supposed to be. If that didn’t hit home when I was reading that definition. Are we who we ought to be? Do we have integrity, virtue, purity. Do our thoughts, feelings, and actions reflect God. Are we making movement towards the person we need to be and ought to be. I think a lot of us including myself can say that we are not the way we ought to be. We still have a long journey ahead of us. Which is wear those words before righteousness come in. Hunger and thirst. What kind of hunger and thirst is Jesus talking about here. Well lets first look at what it isn’t. This isn’t the kind of hunger and thirst that we are used to. This isn’t the hunger that we feel when we missed a afternoon snack or we haven't eaten if a few hours. This isn’t the kind of thirst that you can quench with just one glass of water because you realized you haven’t drank enough today. That is not the kind of hunger and thirst that Jesus is talking about here. Those things are very easily satisfied and once you get what you need then you’re done looking for it. If you are not hungry you are not going to go look in the pantry to find a snack. If you’re not thirsty you are not going to go get a glass of milk just to hold in your hand. It has been satisfied. To really understand these words lets look at what they mean in the original language. That first word hunger in Greek is Peinao. Which means to suffer want to be needy, to crave ardently, to seek with eager desire. This is a kind of hunger that leaves a pit in your stomach. A hunger that just can’t seem to be satisfied. A hunger that would drive you to the ends of the earth to find what you are looking for. A hunger that if you don’t get what you need soon or now you might just fade away. Did you know that if you don’t eat for a long time your body will start to eat itself? It will literally start to break down the muscles in your body to get some form of nutrients to continue on. Your body will slowly waste away to the point of death. The word thirst here is Dipsao. Which means to suffer thirst, suffer from thirst. Did you know that if you go with out a drink for a long time your body will actually start to shut down. It needs water in order to survive properly. Functions in your body will stop working. That is the kind of of hunger and thirst that Jesus is talking about. Seeking after righteousness like your life depends on it. Because honestly it does. The longer and the more we decide that we don’t need God we don’t need to follow after Him, we don’t need to read His word, spend time with Him, make an steps towards being more like Jesus we are allowing ourselves to slowly waste away. There is this hunger in our hearts and it will slowly eat away at our spiritual bodies until there is nothing left. Until nothing remains of God in our life and bring ourselves to a eternal death away from God. Jesus is saying here don’t ignore the hunger and thirst you feel to be who God calls you to be. Don’t ignore striving towards integrity, virtue, purity, to have correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting. If we ignore it then we allow it to eat away at our walk with God. Jesus wants us to strive towards all of those things like our lives depend on it. Jesus is saying your hunger and your thirst for righteousness should be so strong that you can’t do anything but try to satisfy that hunger and thirst. But here is the thing. We are not often prepared to make an the effort and sacrifice real righteousness demands. Because the question is “How much do you want righteousness?” When we sit and think about it sometimes the answer is not enough, or really not at all. You know we have this innate desire for goodness to be a good person, but that desire is vague and wistful and not really sharp or intense. We find that when the moment of decision comes to really dive into the sacrifice and effort righteousness brings we are not prepared.
Here is the second part of the verse. “For they will be filled.” Jesus says that if we truly hunger and thirst the way he is talking about that longing that desire to find purpose in this world will be satisfied. The Greek word means “in abundance.” Picture it like you are the only who shows up to a Chinese Buffet and they tell you that you are the only one allowed into and you don’t have to pay. You can eat whatever you want whenever you want and eat as many plates as you like. I've used this before but picture it like this. You have this God shaped hole in you and you’ve tried everything to fill it but it doesn’t fit, then you put God there and it fits perfectly and wholeness, the completeness you feel, you become filled to the brim.
Listen that doesn’t mean that we are ever going to achieve true righteousness. The only one who was truly and fully righteous was Jesus. However, there have been people who were called righteous in the Bible which gives us hope that we can become righteous people. People of virtue, integrity. But listen we are a fallible people. We are going to mess up. Even the people called righteous in the scriptures made mistakes. But those who are blessed are not necessarily the people who achieve perfect righteousness, but the people who long for it and strive for it with their heart their whole being. Because blessedness comes to all who, in spite of failures and shortcomings, strive towards God and strive towards righteousness. H.G Wells the famous author wrote “A man may be a bad musician and yet be passionately in love with music.” We are a sinful people but that doesn’t mean we don't strive to be righteous before God. We don't strive for integrity, virtue, strive for the person we know we ought to be. What God wants us to be.
But here is the challenge. Don’t be satisfied with partial righteousness. alway be striving and moving forward. Don’t reach a point and say well I think I'm good. As soon as we do that we start to fall backwards. Lets take a Greek grammar lesson. righteousness is in the direct accusative, and not in the normal genitive. Now, when verbs of hungering and thirsting in Greek take the accusative instead of the genitive, the meaning is that the hunger and the thirst are for the whole thing. To say I hunger for bread in the accusative means I want the whole loaf. To say I thirst for water in the accusative means I want the whole pitcher
William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Third Ed., The New Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2001), 117.
We should hunger and thirst for the whole of righteousness, For complete righteousness. We should always be striving to move forward in our relationship with God towards righteousness. Now that doesn’t mean we are not going to make mistakes. Doesn’t mean we are going to be perfect, but like I said before those who are blessed are not necessarily people who achieve complete righteousness, but the people who long for it with their whole heart and strive towards it.How much do you want righteousness?” Do you desire it with all your heart. Do you have a hunger or thirst to reach complete righteousness. Do you have this intense desire for righteousness. or are we unprepared and unwilling to put in the effort and sacrifice it takes. It is a choice we have to make everyday. Some people are wasting away. Their spirit slowly being eaten away inside them until their spirit is killed. Its time to find the satisfaction to our hunger and thirst. It is time to find God. Maybe we could read the beatitude like this.
O the bliss of those who long for total righteousness as the starving long for food, and those perishing of thirst long for water, for they will be truly satisfied.