“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” This last of the “negative beatitudes” once more blesses those who are in an unblessed state. Being hungry and thirsty is not good.
I have often read this as, “Blessed are those who are starving, who are famished for things to be made right.” We are hungry and thirsty for righteousness because we are not righteous. We desperately need righteousness within ourselves and in the world around us. It’s a yearning we all feel, some of us more strongly than others, something much deeper than desire. We don’t just want things to be okay in the world; we NEED them to be okay.
And they aren’t. Those are the facts on the ground.
But Jesus’s fourth kingdom blessing assures us that our hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.
Like everything else in Matthew, this promise is drenched in Old Testament context. Our desperate need for righteousness-within and righteousness-without goes all the way back to Eden and the brokenness introduced to the world there. And throughout the law and the prophets, God promised to answer the need.
In fact, the ultimate return of righteousness to the earth would be in the person of the Messiah, the Davidic king:
Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him–
a Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a Spirit of counsel and strength,
a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.
His delight will be in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge
by what He sees with His eyes,
He will not execute justice
by what He hears with His ears,
but He will judge the poor righteously,
and execute justice for the oppressed of the land …
Righteousness will be a belt around His loins;
faithfulness will be a belt around His waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the goat.
The calf, the young lion, and the fatling will be together,
and a child will lead them.
The cow and the bear will graze,
their young ones will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
An infant will play beside the cobra’s pit,
and a toddler will put his hand into a snake’s den.
None will harm or destroy another
on My entire holy mountain,
for the [earth] will be as full
of the knowledge of the LORD
as the sea is filled with water.
On that day the root of Jesseo
will stand as a banner for the peoples.
The nations will seek Him,
and His resting place will be glorious.
The Beatitudes, as the inaugural blessings of the kingdom, proclaim Jesus as the Messiah: because he has come, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.
To Lead a Hungry Life
The negative beatitudes are ultimately blessings because they offer answers for each negative state. But paradoxically, because they accord with reality, the negative state in itself becomes blessed.
If you are poor, better to accept it and go through life open-handed, rather than pridefully refuse help. If you are grieving, better to cry than to cut off your emotions and become hard. If you are going through affliction, the attitude of meekness will turn hardship into a refiner’s fire instead of a ravager’s flame.
And if you are hungry and thirsty, it’s better to know it than to grow so desensitized to your need for food and water that you starve to death.
Just as pain alerts us to danger so that we are able to avoid damage or seek healing, spiritual poverty, mourning, meekness, and hunger-and-thirst bring us face-to-face with the true state of things in our world and in our hearts.
The truth isn’t pretty or easy. It’s not what we’d like it to be. None of us wants to lead a hungry life.
But unless and until we embrace the truth of our need, we are not in a position for that need to be met. And the Meeter of Needs has in fact come. That is the whole point of the Beatitudes. Jesus identifies each of our deepest, most desperate needs and blesses them, because at long last, the answer to those needs has come.
- Open your empty hands and let them be filled.
- Open your grieving heart and let it be comforted.
- Open your hungry soul wide and let the Lord of Creation feed you.
- Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is here.
The Beginning of Righteousness
Everything about the kingdom of God in its present form has a now-but-not-yet aspect. Peter reminds of us this when, years after the ascension of Jesus, he writes,
But based on His promise, we wait for the new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell. (2 Peter 3:13)
The kingdom of God came to earth with Jesus and was fully established when he sat down at the right hand of the Father in heaven. But the nature of the kingdom currently is that it’s hidden inside of us–planted like a seed in our hearts.
The righteousness wrought within us will spill over into our world. The earth will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea–but first WE will be filled with the knowledge of him, the experiential knowledge born of love, of fellowship, and of oneness of Spirit.
Perhaps the greatest miracle of the kingdom is that we don’t have to wait for the new heavens and the new earth before righteousness will dwell in us–before we will be renewed and transformed into the image of Jesus from glory to glory.
The Ultimate Gift
To those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Jesus offers not ultimately a change of circumstances or even a change of heart, but the gift of himself.
“I am the bread of life. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again.” John 6:35
“Whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again—ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.” John 4:14
We are truly blessed who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, for not only has Jesus promised to meet our need himself, but our fullness will overflow to fill the world.
That too accords with reality, though it seems too good and too big and too abundant to be true. With the Lord as our shepherd, we shall not want for anything anymore.
(This is Part 25 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)