This weekend marks the 70th anniversary of the victory of the US Marines on Iwo Jima. If you don’t know anything about the battle of Iwo Jima, the bloodiest day in Marine Corp history, go home and look it up. The war in the East was so different from the European war. One thing about the eastern theater of WW2 was that those who were taken prisoner never escaped. There is a long history of allied prisoners escaping from Germany custody; but no one ever escaped from a Japanese prison camp. One reason is that they had no idea where they were. Another was they were really weak from malnutrition. One account I read of prisoners said all they thought about was food. There was no thought of escape or violence or women, there was only food.
When you don’t have food, all you think about is food.
When my kids were little I used to read in their class. One year we read Brian’s Winter the sequel to Hatchet by Gary Paulsen – excellent books for 4-5th graders. In Brian’s Winter the main character is trapped in the wilderness of Alaska and must survive. What he quickly learns is that everything – every living being – must eat. His life revolves around his hunger. I mention these two examples to remind us that hunger is a foundational drive. Our hunger drives us. So what does it mean when Jesus says we are blessed when we “hunger and thirst” after righteousness?
That is what we look at today as we continue with our series in the Beatitudes: “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …”
We Hunger and thirst for meaning and happiness
Jesus says blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled. What Jesus is acknowledging here is that we hunger for things other than food and the desire is powerful. We hunger for recognition; we hunger for peace and happiness. Athletes hunger for victory. Business people hunger for market share. Jesus is referring to the deep drive we have for meaning, for peace, for joy but he is telling us that most are seeking spiritual food in the wrong place
I saw an example of this in a book a friend of mine recommended.
Marie Kondo is the author of “The life changing magic of tidying up.” Marie Kondo is an expert in organizing your space. But what is most amazing is her understanding of people. She know that we often buy things and acquire things because we want joy, or peace or meaning. She also realizes that the vast number of things we own do not accomplish that. Before we can organize our stuff we have to de-clutter and she suggests asking of each object “does this spark joy?” Get rid of things that do not “spark joy.”
We hunger for happiness, an emotion of wellbeing. Jesus is talking about blessedness, but it is not that far from happiness. To be blessed is to be fortunate to be in a good place from God’s stand point. It is more than happiness but it is not less than happiness.. Marie Kondo says you can find peace by surrounding yourself only by the things that bring you joy and she is not totally wrong in that. However, Jesus says you are blessed not if you seek happiness, but if you hunger for him. Meaning comes not from seeking meaning but from seeking him. Peace comes, not from seeking peace but from seeking him. That’s what he means
This is what Jesus declare “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Spiritual hunger is a good thing and it is not new. Psalm 42 says this familiar words:
1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
Transition: Jesus tells us that we don’t find blessing or happiness by searching for it. We find it by hungering for righteousness. What does that mean? There are at least three major forms of biblical righteousness that we should hunger for.
We are blessed if we hunger and thirst for legal, moral and social righteousness.
Legal righteousness is personal. This is the hunger that we have to reconnect with the God who made us to be right, forgiven and in relationship with him. It might be sparked by a failure of some sort causing you to feel your guilt. Or it might grow from other emotions like a desire for purity in a world of compromise, of beauty in a world of ugliness or meaning in a world of emptiness. But to want to be right with God is a good thing. You are in a good place because Jesus says you will be filled. Jesus will do what you need him to do for you to be right with God. He is our sacrifice of atonement. He pays the debt for our sin. Having legal righteousness through Jesus is like having an enormous debt, a debt that was crippling your desire to move forward in life all paid. In Jesus we are forgiven and debt free.
But those who first heard this beatitude probably identified with the other two other aspects of righteousness.
Moral righteous is also personal but it is progressive. This hunger is when we long for a life more controlled by God and more free from sin, selfishness, anger, hurt, fear and lack of trust. It is hungering for more of God. An earlier beatitude said blessed are those who mourn. But we don’t just mourn over past sin, we hunger for new life. This is a desire for positive holiness to be right in all our actions.
The promise is that you will be filled. Salvation is a gift. It is not just forgiveness for past sins and a hope for eternal life. It is also a promise of transformation. In Christ God has broken the power of sin in our lives. And throughout scripture God invites people to come to him as in Isaiah 55. He offers the spiritual food we need.
Jesus says we are blessed if we hunger and thirst for more of God. Those people are blessed because that is a hunger God will meet. We may be called to cooperate with God by being accountable to other people, breaking routines that lead us into sin, confessing our failures to God and to each other. But God will change you if you hunger for that change.
The third dimension of biblical righteousness goes beyond just our personal spiritual lives. Social righteousness involves our desire to see the world reflect the character of God.
What the pilgrims wanted as they shouted Hosanna to Jesus was a society that reflected the character of God. They were an oppressed people. They wanted freedom and justice. They wanted a government without corruption and they wanted the rule of law. They wanted leaders who cared about them and protected the most vulnerable. To hunger and thirst for righteousness is also to hunger for God’s rule on the earth.
We see social righteousness in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets. They cried out against corruption and oppression. They warned that God would judge those who murdered and lied. They accused God’s people of idolatry and violence. This prophetic ideal continued long after the people returned from Babylon. It lived in Jesus’ day. They longed for the kingdom of the messiah. We talked about this when we studied “blessed are those who mourn” because one of the things we mourn is the sin of the world around us as well as the sin inside us.
When we pray the prayer Jesus gave us we hunger and thirst for social righteousness. Jesus told us to pray “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus says we are blessed when we have this desire. And it is not new. Martin Luther writing in the 16th century said of this passage:
“offer your hands and feet and your whole body, and to wager everything you have and can do…a hunger and thirst for righteousness that can never be curbed or stopped or sated… if you cannot make the world completely pious, then do what you can…”
If you have no hunger to be right with God and no hunger to make your life pleasing to God you have to pause and ask yourself if you are a Christian. The hunger to know God is basic to being a Christian. Even as he changes us, we are aware of how much more we need to know him, how much more we need God in our lives. Maybe you need to take that first step of being reconciled, letting God cancel your sin so you can have a relationship with him.
Once you belong to God he will continue to awaken your hunger.
So what do you do if you feel satiated, if you feel no desire for God even though you know you are his child? Well, how do we make ourselves hungry? We fast from food. How do you make yourself spiritually hungry – perhaps you fast from all the other noise in your life, all the other things that clutter your waking hours. Maybe deep down inside you are hungry for God, but you cannot feel it because of all the noise and busyness in your life.
Make this week a week of fasting until you find yourself hungry for God.