Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.–Matthew 5:6
How long could you go without eating? Generally speaking, I can usually make it from lunch until dinner….
Seriously though, the average study seems to find that as long as the person is hydrated, people can go for a little over a month without eating. There are even documented cases during the 1981 hunger strike by Irish political prisoners who lasted nearly two months without food.
I can’t imagine being that hungry. I’m the kind of person they show in the Snickers commercials, where one of the men becomes a diva (think Aretha Franklin) when he’s hungry; thankfully, his friends give him a Snickers bar and he reverts back to his ‘normal’ state!
But in this particular Beattitude, Jesus tells us we are blessed if we hunger and thirst for righteousness because then we will be filled or satisfied.
I have to admit that I often snack before dinner. I’m so hungry that I have to eat something, but when it comes to dinner, then I’m not hungry enough to eat the good stuff. I think that we often fail to see that we can’t be filled up with righteousness, because we’re full of a bunch of other stuff.
Seriously, how often have you been sitting in church and your to do list for Sunday afternoon got in the way? Or your phone buzzes with a Facebook notification… and you’re off staring at pictures? But it’s not just distractions…
-It’s our expectations about what worship will look like and if it makes us feel comfortable.
-It’s about the person who has really annoyed us and being steamed that they’re actually in church the same week as us!
-It’s about wishing those new people didn’t sit in ‘our’ pew.
Some of those are pretty funny, right? Some of them prod us into a state of uncomfortable “is he talking to me?”
But the thing is, if we want to approach God, and be more like Jesus, be a better disciple, we have to be hungry… and that means we can’t be filled up with a bunch of other stuff that gets in the way.
Take a minute and think about what’s getting in your way of being hungry for righteousness right now? Write them down. Make a mental post-it note.
Now, let’s push on: where can we get some direction on “righteousness”? Certainly, we have several stories in the New Testament about groups of people (usually the Pharisees and teachers of the law) who thought they were righteous, until Jesus showed up and smoked out how unrighteous they were.
Most of us have experienced the unrighteous behavior of someone who thought they were righteous. Unfortunately, if I’m honest, I have to admit that my unrighteous behavior has negatively impacted people I should have, even wanted to, shared Jesus with.
[Please don’t ever come to a softball game I’m playing in…]
So, I’ll say this to you, because you’re here, and I can’t reach all of the people I need to apologize to, and the people who should apologize to you aren’t here to say it: “I’m sorry for the times my unrighteous behavior caused you to not hunger and thirst for more God. Because I was a really bad example.”
Now that we’ve got “unrighteous” out of the way… Wow, it’s really tough getting to righteousness, isn’t it?!!
Sure, in the 1980s/90s things were “righteous, dude” and there were the Righteous Brothers before that, but what does it mean to be righteous?
In Ezekiel 18, the prophet lists a series of things that a righteous person does. He/she does not eat at the place where cultic ceremonies take place, or worship idols. He does not break the seventh commandment about committing adultery; he does not use his power to hold anyone else down socially or economically; he does not steal by taking or by withholding what he has that others need; he does not commit wrongs himself and judges fairly when others ask him to settle a dispute. He follows God’s commands– and is considered righteous.
Amos takes it a step further in 5:21-24. God says, “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
Here, God says worshipping him, showing up and coming to church, doing all of the right things, that just isn’t enough. Because the people are not longing after God’s heart; they do not actually understand the heart of God. But God says that if they would pursue justice, if they would seek to take care of others who are unable to take care of themselves, then righteousness would flow everywhere. Like a river providing water to make things grow, to keep them connected, righteousness would renew the land.
Of course, Jesus takes it further. It’s not where we’d expect it to show up, Jesus’ commentary about righteousness. No, it’s Jesus discourse on worry that he presents his thoughts, in Matthew 6:28-34, that Jesus puts priorities on what matters to God.
To people who worry about what they’ll wear, or what they’ll eat, or where they’ll work, or how much they have in their 401ks (okay, I added that one in)… Jesus said, my version, “The people who don’t know God, they worry about all of that stuff, but you people who do know God, you seek the things God cares about- the kingdom of God and righteousness- and lucky you, you’ll get all of that other stuff, too.” So, there’s a switch going on here, because we’re moving from something specific, acts-based, list-like, to something more metaphysical.
Enter the Apostle Paul to elaborate in Romans 3:22-26: “This righteousness [of God] is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
So, righteousness… is now through faith in Jesus Christ. To all who believe, regardless of their background, nationality, educational background, financial setting. All who have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.
But they are counted righteousness through Jesus so that God could demonstrate his righteousness. They, the believers, can’t claim to have earned it or made it on their own but only through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Righteousness just got a whole lot simpler, but maybe not any easier. Paul gets that, and he allegorizes that challenge in Philippians 3:12-14.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Here’s Paul giving us a raise analogy, and not the last competitive image he’ll provide. But in a world that promotes instant gratification with “buy this now, no money down,” Paul is telling us that the whole life of a disciple, pushing forward is one that is always before him and never completed.
You’re hearing from the greatest post-big twelve apostles that he knows the race for righteousness is one where he’s always leaning forward. He wants it, he claims it, but he won’t attain or possess it completely for himself on this side of heaven.
That is hungering and thirsting for righteousness. It’s the farmer who is doing what needs done for the farm throughout the day, mouth watering over the dinner awaiting on the table at the house that night. It’s the weightlifter who knows that there are only so many more repetitions to be done before the burger that awaits him post-workout. It’s the traveler who knows that there are miles to go before the destination, with clean sheets and a soft pillow, who stays focused on the journey.
It’s the Christian who recognizes that their journey won’t look the same as everyone else’s because no one Christian’s journey is the same. It’s the Christian who recognizes that we’re supposed to seek to be more like Jesus but the reality is that we’re not God and not perfect and not without fault… and they keep pushing toward it anyway. It’s the Christian who wants to be more like Jesus not just because it’s about obtaining heaven but it’s bringing heaven to earth for other people.
DC Talk sang about the tension of righteousness desired versus righteousness fulfilled in “In the Light” in the late 1990s.
I wanna be in the Light
As You are in the Light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh, Lord be my Light and be my salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the Light
All I want is to be in the Light
The disease of self runs through my blood
It’s a cancer fatal to my soul
Every attempt on my behalf has failed
To bring this sickness under control
Tell me, what’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I’m still a man in need of a Savior
To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to want to be in the light. To want to reject the things we know are wrong, to put ourselves to the side and push forward to serve others.
In Biology 101 in high school sophomore year, my teacher [who moonlighted as my dad, too] told us that we were either living or we were dying. Too often, we think we can just ‘float’ like we’re on an inter tube in the pool. But it’s more like swimming: you either sink or you swim, you don’t ever just sit there.
If we’re hungry and thirsty, if we’re seeking God, we’re living, even when don’t “get” it. But if we become satisfied now, if we think we’ve got it all figured out, then that’s probably the first sign of troubles, that we’ve moved far enough away from God that we don’t want more.
To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to recognize that our lives are broken, incomplete, stuck without the grace of Jesus in our lives. It flies in the face of what we’re told most of our lives: “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Don’t ask for directions, figure it out yourself. Never admit you’re struggling. Don’t admit you’re wrong.”
Righteousness shows up and says, “I can’t do this myself.” It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever admitted, right up there with “I’m wrong.” It’s no fun, right? No one wants to admit a weakness, to highlight a problem, to bring attention to their own inadequacies. But it’s the purity of truth shining through, like an addict who admits they have a problem, and is welcomed into community as an equal, a friend, a fellow traveler.
If we’re getting church right, we have to admit that we need each other. We need the fire, the passion, the desire, to get to know more about the Bible, to learn more about God through each other, to understand for ourselves what God is hoping for our lives. We need that hunger and thirst because it keeps us on our toes and helps give us the drive to move forward.
Let’s take a minute and reflect on that. What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to faith? When it comes to your actions? I’m not asking you to answer out loud!
Now, stop for a minute and pray this with me: “I can’t do this on my own. Dear Jesus, help me pursue your righteousness today. Amen.”
As we pray that in our lives, day after day, we’ll realize that we might not be crossing the line, but we’re in training. We’re seeking. We’re hungry. We’re moving forward.
It’s like the Lay’s Chip campaign (more appropriate for Pringles or Sour Patch Kids), “you can’t just eat one.” Knowing God, being with God, experiencing God demands more. It’s not enough just to check in and move on, but the hunger and the thirst grow as the desire for more of God grows.
We’ll move past coming to church because “it’s what we’ve always done.” Or because our friends go here, or because it makes us feel good, or because we want our kids raised in church.
We’ll pursue righteousness because we want more of God in our lives.
So let’s stay hungry. To see God’s kingdom come, to see others loved, to know that we are God’s and he is ours. To know that God is putting us back together, piece by piece.
Stay thirsty, my friends.