The Hunger That Will Always Be Satisfied

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Matthew 5:6

Appetites of various types often create problems for us, but there is one kind of hunger, according to Jesus, that is always good and will always be satisfied.

“You are what you eat.” That was originally said by a German, and it is an even cleverer saying in that language because it makes a pun: Man ist was er isst.

In a literal sense we truly are what we eat. This has been confirmed by all the research that has gone into questions about diet and health. When it comes to eating, our affluent, overfed western society has learned to focus on a whole host of things previous generations had never heard of. Instead of asking, as many people throughout the world still do, whether there is simply enough to eat, we ask how much cholesterol is in the food, what percentage it contains of our daily fiber requirement, how many grams of fat and milligrams of sodium, whether there’s a proper balance between carbohydrates and protein – all because we know that “you are what you eat.”

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT

But what is true physiologically is also true spiritually. Our souls also take on the characteristics of the things we feed them. If you starve yourself spiritually, consuming a steady diet of television entertainment, tabloid papers and popular magazines, and trivial conversations that never go beyond the latest sports scores or movie star gossip, your soul will shrink and you will become a smaller and shallower person. But if you are spiritually hungry for what is important, if you read and meditate and speak about the things of God – the good, the true and the beautiful – if you feed on his Word, if you hunger and thirst for God himself, then you will grow, you will thrive, you will flourish. You will become not only a better person but a healthier, more interesting, more truly human person.

Here is how Jesus put it in the fourth beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” If you follow Jesus’ series of blessings at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, you will soon catch on to his general pattern. Jesus is talking about spiritual poverty (“Blessed are the poor in spirit”), spiritual sorrow (“Blessed are those who mourn”), spiritual humility (“Blessed are the meek”), and now spiritual hunger. You are blessed when you are empty, when you know you have nothing to offer God except your need to be saved. You are blessed when you grieve before God for your need. You are blessed when self-awareness causes you to deal humbly and gently with others.

And you are blessed when you long for spiritual healing and wholeness, both in yourself and in the whole world. This beatitude refers to the satisfying of our inmost desire, the longing of our hearts for righteousness. Jesus isn’t talking about watering mouths and rumbling stomachs, though his original audience, like many a crowd in our own world, knew much more about those things than our well-fed suburban congregations do. But Jesus is talking about hungry hearts and thirsty spirits. The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, says the apostle Paul in Romans 14:17. The Christian life is not about feeding our faces or amusing our minds or giving pleasure to our bodies. It is about righteousness, righteousness before God and peace with God and joy from God.

WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR?

So with that in mind, let’s ask a few questions about spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst. What is it that you yourself are hungry for? What is your deepest inmost longing? Many don’t even know. The typical modern woman or man, someone has commented, is like a person who gets up in the middle of the night, stumbles into the kitchen, opens the refrigerator and stands there staring for a while, bathed in the light streaming from the open door. Not finding anything he really wants, not even knowing what he really wants, he shrugs and goes back to bed still hungry.

I think that little analogy explains a lot about modern life. For example, why do so many people become addicted to things like drugs and alcohol? Isn’t it largely because they are trying to satisfy an inner hunger and they will even use substances they know will kill them, if only they can find some momentary pleasure? Aren’t many today just like that man in front of the refrigerator? They know they’re hungry for something, they want something, they need something, but they don’t know what, so they grab the first thing in reach: money, booze, sex, whatever – even if it kills them.

If you prodded and probed for an answer, I would guess the average person would say something like this: “What I really want is just to be happy. What I am hungry and thirsty for is personal happiness.” When Thomas Jefferson drew up America’s Declaration of Independence in 1776, he included the famous assertion that all people by virtue of their creation by God have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Jefferson was wise enough to know that we don’t have an actual right to happiness. Happiness is dependent on too many things beyond our control for us to expect it as a right. But he did say that everyone has the right to pursue happiness, and that’s exactly what most people spend their lives doing.

But isn’t it interesting that Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for happiness”? He says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Happiness is an elusive quarry and most of those who chase it never quite catch up to it. People who spend their whole lives in the search to find happiness by acquiring lovers, producing children, amassing wealth, collecting luxuries, or enjoying experiences often end up feeling as though they had everything in the world except the one thing they were looking for. Happiness is one of those things in life that makes a wonderful gift but a very poor goal. When it does come to us, happiness usually sneaks up on us when we’re not looking. If we set out with the resolve to make ourselves happy, we usually end up frustrated and disappointed. But if we say instead, “I’m going to make myself useful to others and to God with my life,” then more often than not, when we come to the end, we realize that we’ve actually been given happiness along the way. Aim at holiness, it has been said, and you may get happiness thrown in as a bonus, but aim at happiness and you’ll get neither.

HUNGRY FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS

I think that’s exactly what Jesus is getting at when he says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Righteousness is one of the great Bible words, and of course, as its name implies, it means what is good and right – right, that is, in God’s eyes, according to God’s judgment.

In one sense, righteousness is a gift. It’s something we can never attain on our own. These first four beatitudes are all “need” beatitudes. They don’t point to qualities that we have. They all point to things we haven’t got. They remind us of our great need for God’s grace. The only way we will find full and perfect righteousness is by simply trusting in Christ and accepting it as a gift from God.

The New Testament also talks about another kind of righteousness, one that is a personal attribute. This righteousness refers to what we actually do. There is a legal righteousness which God in effect “credits” to our account. This righteousness he grants as a gift to those who believe in Jesus, not because we deserve it but out of sheer grace. But the Bible also says a lot about practical righteousness, that is, a righteousness that is actually put into practice by us. This is the righteousness of which Jesus is speaking here. Practical righteousness has both a personal and a social dimension. It means personal holiness, the inner rightness of character and belief and thought which produces an outer rightness of behavior and conduct. To hunger and thirst for righteousness means to long for wholeness, integrity, and for purity and goodness in our lives. It is to pursue the struggle for holiness so that we will become the persons God means us to be.

The social dimension of practical righteousness points to its corporate nature. The righteousness we long for must extend to all society. To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to have a vision of a world transformed, a world of freedom and justice for the oppressed, of food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, dignity for the scorned, protection for the weak. The Hebrew word for this collective, world-wide righteousness is shalom or peace. “In the Bible,” writes Professor Neal Plantinga, “shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be” (Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, p. 10). Professor Plantinga goes on to describe the Bible’s vision of what the world in which righteousness flourished would look like.

The foolish would be made wise, and the wise, humble. The deserts would flower, the mountains would run with wine, weeping would cease, and people could go to sleep without weapons on their laps. People would work in peace and work to fruitful effect. Lambs could lie down with lions. All nature would be fruitful again, and filled with wonder upon wonder; all humans would be knit together in brotherhood and sisterhood; and all nature and all humans would look to God, walk with God, lean toward God, and delight in God. Shouts of joy and recognition would well up from valleys and seas, from women in
streets and from men on ships.

This is the righteousness we’re hungering and thirsting for.

SATISFACTION

And this is the vision that Jesus holds before our eyes. It is a vision which ought to provoke a strong desire within us, both to become the kind of people God had in mind when he created the human race, and for the world to become the kind of place it ought to be. If you are hungering and thirsting for these things, Jesus’ promise is that you will find them: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” This is the one kind of hunger that will always be satisfied – not immediately perhaps, and not finally in this life. We always have to go on hungering and thirsting for righteousness because every time we attain a little bit of it, we recognize there’s still more to go. But some day everyone who longs for personal holinesss and social justice and for the very presence of God will be filled, once and for all. “And I,” cried the psalmist, “in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (Ps. 17:15).

One final note. If you and I are truly hungry and thirsty for righteousness, we won’t just sit back and wait for it to be served up to us. We will always and everywhere be actively seeking it and doing it each day of our lives.