Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
This past weekend Lisa put in a call to the manager of our H-E-B store here in New Braunfels. She was wanting to simply ask if he had such-and-such a product in stock before driving over to get it. He informed her that the store had closed early, and they were frantically trying to re-stock the shelves with food. “You wouldn’t believe it,” he cried, “It was wall-to-wall people snatching for just about anything and everything. We were nearly wiped out. But the trucks are here right now and we’re going to be ready for business when we open tomorrow.” Pausing, he went on, “We’re not opening until 8 a.m., but my hunch is that folks will already be lining up by 8, and if you have something you desperately need, you should be here to get in line much earlier than that!” The manager’s panic struck a chord in us, one so definite that I got up early the next morning and drove by the H-E-B, finding that, sure enough, the parking lot was full and there was a line already formed out the front door. Who could have imagined it?
Not being able to have the food we want is almost unfathomable for 21st century Americans, much less the food we need. Some of us can remember stories our grandparents told of the Depression era and having to scrounge for food if and when the family garden was bare, but most of us have never had to face such a threat. The people in Jesus’ day did. Just consider the context of Jesus’ sermons and this beatitude. In that day and time a working man’s wages were minuscule. Families had very little purchasing power. They were, therefore, always perilously close to crossing over the line into real hunger and starvation. Combine that with the fact that there were just a few ways to preserve food. Therefore, meats were precious . . . the Palestinian family would have them maybe once a week, if they were lucky. And if you had the food you had to eat it soon because without refrigerators or freezers, food spoiled in a hurry. Therefore, those in that day and time lived dangerously close to starvation . . . each day was a challenge.
Compounding this was the reality of thirst. Not only did the people have to be creative with their food, water was a precious commodity that was not taken for granted, especially on a trip. All travelers in those days knew how the hot winds could swirl into a storm, sending sand everywhere. For a traveler there was not anything to do when this happened but to wrap one’s head in a burnous and turn your back to the wind and wait. It wasn’t unusual to wait a long time to risk a drink of water . . . the throat would be so parched and dry that it would almost crack. We in the western world have little understanding of this (unless perhaps you’ve endured a West Texas dust storm).
The hunger and thirst described by Jesus in this beatitude is not some kind of hunger that could be satisfied with a mid-morning snack or a cup of coffee. This is the hunger and thirst of one who is desperate, one who will risk everything to be satisfied. William Barclay says that this beatitude really turns into a question: “How much do you want goodness? Do you want it as much as a starving man wants food and as much as a man dying of thirst wants water?” How intense is our desire for righteousness, that righteousness which is not so much concerned with right rules and laws as it is with a right relationship with God and neighbor? To hunger and thirst after righteousness is to possess a holy desperation, a desire to do whatever, whenever, however, in order to move into a closer relationship with the Master of the Universe.
Several years ago Edgar Cage, a friend I had met through Together Baton Rouge (an ecumenical social ministries organization) asked me to help him serve fresh groceries at a church in north Baton Rouge, perhaps the poorest section of that city. Edgar, a former business executive, had felt called by God to move to Baton Rouge and work with the poor. His passion and dedication have forever blessed me with new understandings of the Kingdom of God. With his invitation, he mentioned that I needed to see the food desert of Baton Rouge firsthand. I drove out early that morning, just as daylight was breaking. Already there was a long line of folks in front of the church. In the parking lot were two huge grocery trucks. When Edgar saw me, he came over, hugged me, and then said, “You’re going to see things that you won’t believe. These are people who have not been able to buy fresh produce. They shop at the 7-11. Their kids have never seen a stalk of broccoli or a basket of squash.” He was right. I didn’t believe it, until I saw mothers and fathers pulling their children through my portion of the serving line where I was giving out bags of broccoli and green beans. The parents would point to the produce, tell their children they were going to love how it tasted, and then receive the produce with tears in their eyes and on their cheeks.
I learned a lot that day. I personally observed people who were hungry and thirsty. But I also observed a follower of Jesus who was so hungry and thirsty for God’s righteousness that he was full to the brim with grace. The example of his passion still moves me, and just typing these words has stirred a re-commitment in me to desperately long for God’s righteousness for all of God’s children. I invite you to join me, so that in these desperate times we might be desperate for the righteousness of God.
A Time of Reflection and Prayer
Can you recall your emotions when you gave your life to Christ? Can you remember the unabashed joy of that commitment? Take time to thank God for it. But also take time to ask God to rekindle that passion.
2In this time of anxiety and loneliness, will you take time to pray for someone who hungers for the gracious care of a brother or sister in Christ, perhaps even expressing that care through a written note or phone call?
A Sermonic Thought as a Guide to Prayer: From C.S. Lewis’ sermon, The Weight of Glory
“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desire not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, we are like ignorant children who want to continue making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”