Beatitudes,  Guest Contributors

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger & Thirst For Righteousness

Hunger Is Not Enough

Written by Adena Giles

“Man approaches God most nearly when he is in one sense least like God. For what can be more unlike than fullness and need, sovereignty and humility, righteousness and penitence, limitless power and a cry for help?”

~C.S. LEWIS, THE FOUR LOVES

I’m convinced that my children were born with an innate sense of when I step foot into the kitchen. I’m telling you, they could be a few houses down, at the playground, bombarded by the sounds of kids laughing at full volume, screeching from the tops of monkey bars, competing with raucous insults slung by teenagers playing basketball. There’s probably a stereo in there somewhere blasting the noise of the biggest summer hit. But if my foot so much as crosses the threshold of our mess hall, they are there in an instant. I was just going to do the dishes. They want to know what’s for dinner, at 2:30 pm. Just my proximity to that space makes them feel hungry.

Once Jesus’s ministry was underway, it didn’t take long for droves of people to follow him with expectation. His words, his healing, his very presence was the stuff of life. And life, so far as they experienced it, had left them wanting, surrounded by oppression as they were. On one side they had religious leaders making them feel as if they could never be holy enough, and on the other, Romans who viewed them with a side-eye of disdain. The places in them that were made for vitality were hollow and desolate. Suddenly they had someone addressing them with love and compassion, looking them in the eye, touching them, and inviting them to his table.

Upon hearing the Beatitudes, I wonder when those gathered there at His feet got it – that no matter how spiritually vapid, how broken-hearted, or how trampled over they were in their present state, that this grand kingdom being spoken of was available to them, even them. In that place there is wholeness, there is comfort, there is courage. Let’s assume that the people in the mix were similar to the crowds that followed him throughout his ministry; rich and poor, humble and esteemed. Jesus, doing what he did best, met them all, each one of them, right where they were.

After acknowledging and encouraging the poor in spirit, the mourning, and the meek, he said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” (Matt 5:6) He shifted from naming basic human conditions to the most universal human experiences; hunger and thirst. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to refer to this idea as just hunger.

Aristocrat and commoner, child and grown-up, we all know hunger. It would have been easy enough to have just said “desire,” “long,” or “yearn,” but there’s a very distinct feeling that hunger opens up in us – a craving, a rumble, a primeval urge to satisfy our most elemental need. Ever experience the cry of a famished newborn? We learn how to repress the shriek as we grow and mature (people with hangry problems excluded), but that ache is still very much there.

Of course the Master isn’t talking about dinner time, but when it comes to life and living, who doesn’t have a deep-seated desire for something more? Hunger is defined as, “A feeling of pain, emptiness, or weakness induced by lack of food.” What if we replace that last word with “fulfillment” or “purpose?” “Hunger is a feeling of pain, emptiness, or weakness induced by a lack of fulfillment or purpose.” At some point in most of our lives, we start asking ourselves why we are here on this planet, and that opens up a whole host of questions on how to be fulfilled in life. There are plenty of ways to feed that longing, most of them being the spiritual equivalent of twinkies and deep fried butter. In the need to consume things to survive, we often find ourselves consumed by our own appetites. As John D. Rockefeller famously replied to a reporter who asked him how much money is enough; “Just a little bit more.”

Hunger, in and of itself, is not enough. A few years ago I found myself some 30 pounds overweight – pregnancies and subsequent overeating had taken their toll. To get better, I had to change what, and how much, I eat. Besides exercise, I also had to cut back on my calories, and stop believing in “treat yoself” so much. At first it was hard to believe in any likelihood that I could be fit. For the first few weeks I went to bed feeling just a little hungry for that extra helping, or that sweet something-or-other. But the more I dug into that discipline, the better I felt overall. Then, surprise surprise, I found myself actually craving the good fuel, and less drawn to the junk that set me back and slowed me down. When I fed on the good stuff, I was satisfied by it.

Getting back to our friends on the mountainside, I can’t help but wonder if they felt like outcasts from the good life, as I felt an unlikely candidate for fitness. But doesn’t God just love using the “unlikelies?” Abraham, Moses, David, Gideon; too old, too inarticulate, too young, too small. And yet, here are our heroes. Our greats. Remember Rahab?

In the book of Joshua, we aren’t given any background on Rahab the prostitute. We are only told that a couple of spies enter her house in Jericho, and she hides them from the king’s men. When I first encountered this story, I looked at her arrangement with the Israelites as a sort of quid pro quo entry into the Israelite camp. “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign.” (Josh 2:12) This always confused me. I mean, sure, Joshua, spare her and all. But why is she listed among the greats in James and Hebrews?

Then look at what she says first, because I missed it entirely. In Joshua 2:8-11,

“Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, ‘I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.'” (Emphasis mine)

Joshua 2:8-11

When confronted with the reality of the one true God, Rahab at once became aware of the emptiness inside herself and those around her.

All of Jericho was aware of the Israelites’ journey and conquests. They sat in fear, let it consume them, and hid behind their wall. Rahab saw beyond the deeds of men and looked to the God leading them. She knew there was more substance to the story, and she had a hunger for it. Then she “confessed with her mouth,” so to speak, that this God of the Israelites was the real deal, and she joined the cause. If that isn’t a salvation story, I don’t know what is. Joshua spares her and her family, and they integrate into the life of the Jews.

And that’s not even the end of her narrative. We don’t get to see the details of the rest of her life, but her name echoes throughout the New Testament. In fact, she is part of the exalted lineage of Jesus himself. The former prostitute is listed among the greats in both Hebrews 11:31, and in James 2:25, which says, “…was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies..?” That is the result of the right kind of hunger. A woman who had spent her life feeding on the lusts of men, now dined on grace, mercy, and eternal significance.

Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives more detail concerning the material worries of life. To paraphrase, he tells us not worry about what we eat or drink, or what we will wear. In fact, don’t even worry about what tomorrow will bring. Instead, “…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.(Matt 6:33)” In other words, “you will be filled.” And we know what happens when Jesus feeds people; there is a smorgasbord of over-abundance. There are baskets full of leftovers. There is the miraculous. There is fulfillment.

The tricky thing about hunger is that it never leaves us completely. It’s rhythmic, and we are in constant need. The beauty of hunger is that Jesus never runs out of things to feed us. His larders are never empty. Of course, just having access to it doesn’t mean we will have instant gratification. Good eating requires a little more from us, namely, food preparation, which takes time, patience, effort, and guidance. There isn’t really an “easy mac” version of the spiritual disciplines.      

Our spirits require preparation, too. In order to learn how to satisfy those deep desires, we have to start with the basics – what is righteousness, first of all? The Greek word in the text is διkαιοσυνη (dee-kai-ah-su-nay), it shares a root with the word διkαιος (dee-kai-os), which means, “correct, innocent,” relating to “the conformity of God’s standard.” How do we know God’s standard? The easiest place to start is through prayer and scripture reading. After all, if we’re hoping to be fulfilled in life, why not turn to the Bread of Life Himself? Find someone deeper in the faith than you and ask questions. Keep looking. Don’t get overwhelmed by the copious amounts of information out there. Don’t worry about running out of ideas and finding only futility. (Isa 58:11) “And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”

One of my favorite experiences in motherhood is watching my children be satisfied by the food I give them – from nursing babies to putting full plates in front of my bigger kids. Even though it can sometimes be frustrating trying to keep up with their seemingly bottomless appetites, I always love to hear, “That was so good!” and “I’m so full!” If I feel that way about my kids’ full bellies, how much more does our Lord and Maker feel about feeding us? He never gets aggravated when we want more, and he wants us to feel his presence in our hollow places. So listen for his footstep brushing over the threshold. He’s waiting for you, with an unending table of goodness to help you grow and thrive. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is Good!” (Ps. 34:8)

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