“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Two launchpads for meditation. The first launchpad reflects on what it means to hunger and thirst.
By employing physical needs to describe spiritual realities, Jesus’ message can be understood and personally felt by all humans. However, in the modern, wealthy world, rarely do we go without food and drink. Our experiences of hunger and thirst have been muted.
But Jesus’ audience would have known persistent hunger and potentially life-threatening thirst. In our world of fast food and frozen meals, the Lord’s prayer to give us our daily bread can seem irrelevant. But for Jesus’ audience, daily sustenance was a concern. In our world of drive-thru, we don’t even experience hunger or thirst while traveling. But for Jesus’ audience, traveling on foot long distances through the desert would produce a hunger and thirst for food and water.
Consider, for example, the introduction to Jesus feeding the four thousand in Mark 8:1-3: “About this time another large crowd had gathered, and the people ran out of food again. Jesus called his disciples and told them, “I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will faint along the way. For some of them have come a long distance.”
Physical desire for food and water were intense. So, in Matthew 5:6, to hunger and thirst for righteousness is not about a casually or occasional interest in being right with God. The metaphor describes a constant, relentless pursuit of being in a devoted, vibrant relationship with God. Each of us, upon a few hours without eating or drinking, will seek food and water to satisfy our hunger and thirst. How much more, should we daily desire righteousness!
The second launchpad for meditation reminds us that being right with God is a gift. We cannot earn righteousness or achieve it by our strivings.
The phrase in this verse – “for they will be filled” – is referred to as a divine passive. It is passive because the verb uses a passive voice, and it is a divine passive because God is the implied actor. In verse 4 of the beatitudes, it is God who comforts the mourner, and in verse 7 it is God who gives mercy. Likewise, in this verse, it is God who grants righteousness.
Although we should strive to live rightly before God, we do not fill ourselves with righteousness. Our desires of hunger and thirst for righteousness are filled by God. Righteousness is not something we earn, but it is a blessing or honor to be received as a gift.
So, seek righteousness as intensely as a traveler walking through the desert would seek food and water. But with gratitude, recognize that it is God who gives virtue and uprightness to you and to me.