47. The Beatitudes - Hunger and Thirst after Righteousness (Matthew 5:6; Luke
This is the only one of the Beatitudes to imply an aspiration
after something not attained. All the others describe an existing spiritual
condition - blessed are they who are poor in spirit, meek, mourners,
merciful, peacemakers, persecuted. Here, too, there is a present continuing
hunger and thirst, but it is an eagerness for change. No man can remain content
with an abiding unsatisfied longing within himself. Hence the prayer: “Thy
kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day
our daily bread.”
Strangely enough, Jesus nevertheless pronounces the existence
of this spiritual hunger and thirst a present happiness. The paradox only
makes sense in the light of his added assurance, “they shall be
filled”. The very knowledge, received on the highest possible authority,
that these eager longings will one day be fully and altogether satisfied, makes
bearable the present lack.
There is only one form of selfishness which is commended in
Holy Scripture. A man has a right to care for his own physical needs: “The
appetite of the labouring man laboureth for him; for his mouth urgeth him
thereto” (Pr. 16:26). And his own spiritual needs: “Are there few
that be saved?” Jesus answered with a point-blank imperative:
“Strive to enter in...” (Lk. 13:23, 24).
Yet, strangely enough, there is precious little a man can do
for himself in this direction. He can set the valve of his will the right way.
But the rest has to be done for him by a higher Power.
Happiness a by-product
The world’s philosophers, including even that great fool
George Bernard Shaw, have been shrewd enough to recognize that when a man makes
happiness his target, he invariably misses his aim; for happiness is always a
by-product. Set out to “have a good time”, and somehow it
doesn’t turn out to be as good a time as hoped for or expected. But let a
man seek to follow the path of duty, let him concern himself about the
well-being or the happiness of others, and he will not lack satisfaction in life
- if only to a limited extent. This is true, even in the lives of
It is vastly more true in the spiritual life. The disciples
left Jesus hungry and tired by the well of Sychar. They returned to find him
alert and no longer interested in food: ‘I have meat to eat that ye know
not of”(Jn. 4:32, 14).
And he commends this to his disciples. When others (in the
synagogue at Capernaum) challenged him with: ‘Our fathers did eat manna in
the desert. Jesus, give us food every day as Moses did’, he dared to say
to them: “It was not Moses that gave you the bread out of heaven, but my
Father (who gave that) is now giving you the true bread... I am the bread of
life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth in
me shall never thirst” (Jn. 6:31, 32, 35). Here is perennial Manna and
ceaseless flow of purest water from a Smitten Rock.
Jesus showed also that the greater includes the less. When
eager crowds of people endured physical hunger and thirst because of their
spiritual hunger and thirst he forthwith satisfied those needs too (Mt. 14:15;
15:32). “Bread shall be given him, his waters shall be sure” (ls.
Real hunger, real thirst
The highest aspirations ever put into words are
these: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth
my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for the living God” (Ps.
42:1, 2). “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord:
my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God” (84:2). “My
soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land,
where no water is” (63:1).
They say - and it is more than credible - that a starving man
on a raff dreams of superb gargantuan meals, that a traveller with raging thirst
in a desert cannot take his mind off the thought of bubbling springs of cool
water. The present happiness of the saint in Christ is that he does not have to
indulge in fantasies, he knows that his desperate need will be
met. That need is met here and now to a great extent, in an assurance of the
forgiveness of sins and a new righteousness which is more that a mere
The prodigal son, hungry, starving, is immediately at peace as
soon as his resolve is taken to return to his Father. His welcome as he
approaches home sets any last doubt at rest. And after that, not only is his
immediate need more that met, he has also a lasting satisfying share in every
good thing which his Father’s house can provide -- each one of these
transformed into a yet greater blessedness by the contrasting thought of swine
Mary, thinking little of “the food which
perisheth”, even though it was for the Lord and his disciples, showed the
craving that obsessed her, and was not thrust away. ‘Martha, your
preparations are too elaborate. A one-course meal will do - and Mary is set on
having hers now!’
Saul of Tarsus hungered and thirsted after righteousness and
sought the wrong kind of satisfaction. But because he did seek, at last he
found. Longings after self-made righteousness
Vanished when he recognized at last that God had provided a
Zaccheus would have been well content with a quiet undisturbed
sight of Jesus as he passed by. But he found himself personally addressed by the
Teacher he revered from a distance. This Jesus chose to neglect the crowd in
order that he - under-sized, outcast publican - might be the centre of
attention: “Zaccheus, today I must abide at thy house.” Biggest
marvel of all: “This day is salvation come to this house.”
So whilst there is no immediate release from the
disappointments and discouragements of this imperfect life, present blessings in
Christ can be marvellously satisfying, and to these is added the realism of the
Lord’s future tense in this Beatitude: “he shall be filled”.
There will be “new heavens and earth wherein dwell righteousness”,
an incredible transformation from the sordid godlessness of this vice-doped
Woe unto you
By contrast with the promised blessing there is the
Lord’s lament over those unable to assess their own acute need: “Woe
unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger.” Jesus surely put that word
“full” in quote-marks, to signify the man who persuades himself that
he has what makes a good life. To him, sooner or later, the truth will come home
with an aching pang which will be for ever past satisfying: “Behold, my
servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry: behold my servants shall drink, but
ye shall be thirsty” (ls. 65:13).
But this “Woe to you that are full” has also
present force, for it is a fulness of material things now which makes a man say:
“I’m all right, Jack.” A true perception of his own lack is
blinded by satisfaction with what is temporary and worthless.
To Jesus himself nothing could be more satisfying than
fulfilling the work of God: “My meat is to do the will of him that sent
me, and to finish his work” (Jn. 4:34). And he brings his disciple to the
same unsurpassed self-fulfilment by becoming for him “The Lord our
- The Old Testament roots of this Beatitude are not to be neglected; eg. Ps.
107:2-6; Jer. 31:25, 26; Ex. 24:11; and contrast Am. 8:11.
- The Greek text
is literally: “hunger and thirst righteousness” (an accusative
instead of the expected genitive) as though perhaps implying that the hunger and
thirst of such people is itself deemed by the Lord to be a kind of righteousness
without them appreciating that fact.