This is the fifth message in a series of Jesus’ statements called the Beatitudes that are found in the Sermon on the Mount.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matt 5:6).
Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart (Abba Poeman, 4th Century Christian).
Either you are hungry or you are not. Either you are thirsty or you are not. Either you are full or you are not. Either you are satisfied or you are not. Hunger and thirst are realities. What we pursue and ingest to satisfy them may be illusions.
Our hunger and thirst can be conditioned by behaviors and habits that accustom us or even addict us to certain tastes and feelings. There is a reason that alcoholic beverages are called “spirits” and certain dishes are referred to as “comfort foods.”
We have basic needs for nutrition and hydration to sustain life. These needs are absolute and undeniable.
The people that Jesus was preaching to on the mountain were having difficulties getting these needs filled. Most of them lived on a subsistence diet based on what they could grow in the rocky Judean fields and catch in the Sea of Galilee. Drought, famine, and disease ravaged the populace at Palestine, especially since Rome took its share of their grain and fish off of the top and sent it back to Europe to feed its burgeoning empire.
Jesus was not aloof from their hunger. He was human and his stomach growled too. A good teacher knows that a mind in a malnourished body is not going to function with the facility that God intended. People who do not know where their next meal is coming from tend to be distrustful of everyone. As a leader, Jesus had to be concerned about the physical health and welfare of his people.
But Jesus taught his people before he fed them. He knew in the words of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones that like the Prodigal Son they “hungered for the husks, but they were starved for the Father.”
Feeding them was a mercy for Jesus but it wasn’t his mission. He did not come to this world to improve our nutrition and food distribution systems, although he equipped some of his followers to do that well.
“The Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). “The lost”is an appellation that we don’t think much about in spiritual terms in the era of post-modern relativism, the Global Positioning System tracking, and satellite surveillance. To understand the term as Jesus used it imagine a grim-faced physician stepping out of a hospital intensive care unit and telling a patient’s anxious family, “If something doesn’t turn around soon, we are going to lose her. There is nothing more that we can humanly do to save her.”
Excepting random accidents, human violence, natural disasters, genetic disorders and rampant viruses, what put that patient in the ICU is likely the ingestion of the wrong things and abuse of her body by things like overwork and lack of exercise over time. Like the Israelites whose appetites had been conditioned to the tastes of “fleshpots of Egypt” to the point that they were willing to reenter slavery to satisfy their cravings, we are conditioned to the slavery of the feast and famine enslavement of a world obsessed with the binge and purge excesses of abundance and appearance.
“Life is all about choices” as a friend of mine is fond of saying. Moses told the children of Israel in his valedictory address to them, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him, for that means life to you and length of days . . . .” (Deut 30:19b-20a). Jesus was renewing Moses’s call.
He had already told those gathered on the mountain that the blessing of eternity belonged to those who depended on God for their very breath, that comfort belonged to those who were willing to let Go and let God, that the inheritance of the true blessings of this earth would come to those who lived in God’s strength and not their own.
Now, Jesus told them that their soul-hunger — that aching discontentment that they did not know a human love they could trust, the longing for a rest and peace that went beyond mere safety precautions and eased the wearying anxieties of mind and heart, the deepest desire to be right with the Creator and Lover of their souls — was a gift from the Lord to tell them that the way it was for them and is for them is not the way it should be in the intentions of God.
Our ancestors acted on the temptation of appetite to leave the side of God and the eternal life of which he is our only source. We have been wandering, lost and dying ever since. How do we find our way home to God’s side again?
When the deepest and chief craving of our lives is the desire to be at one with God, then, and only then, will we be satisfied.That was and is Jesus’ message. Our soul-hunger tells us that we need God and are missing him. God the Father knew our poverty of spirit and sent Jesus not just to lead us home, but to fulfill our need.
As the philosopher and mathematician Blake Pascal famously observed, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” David more succinctly appraised the cause and effect of our devotion to God on the hungers of our soul: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Ps 23:1).
The Lord has made us in such a way that hunger is a daily phenomenon. To lose one’s hunger is to lose the desire to live. When we no longer hunger for God, our desire for eternal life is dissipated. Then we are “lost” in the sense that Jesus meant the term, “perishing.” Ironically, to enjoy the satisfaction of a life with God, our hunger for God must not wane. The truth is that the hunger and thirst for righteousness sake is in and of itself the blessing.
“The one who is righteous will live by faith,” wrote the Apostle Paul (Rom 1:17 quoting Hab 2:4). Living by faith is to be sustained by the longing for something that is not yet in sight.
Many years ago, I came to realize that my idea that I could possess anything for myself was a delusion. Reality is the hunger to be with the Creator and Lord of all things. I pray and live that hunger every day in the promise that those who think this way without giving in and settling for the best they can do here and now will find that “God is not ashamed to be their God” (Heb 11:16).
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,
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