blessed are those who hunger & thirst for righteousness…

blessed are those who hunger and thirst

* this is fourth in a series focused on the beatitudes in matthew 5.  the first three are:  blessed are the spiritually poor, blessed are those who mourn & blessed are the meek.

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a few days ago i walked a labyrinth with a friend.  no matter how long or short, whenever i carve out quiet time & get some silence & space to connect with God, i am always refreshed somehow.  nothing super exciting happened in the moment but i did have this strong and beautiful sense of God’s sureness underneath my feet as i walked.

it was the world’s ugliest labryinth (really) and it was a little windy & cold outside but as i walked i started noticing these little rocks that were sparkly & shiny here and there.  they were scattered within the stark brownness of the rest of the path.  i felt this sense of God whispering, “notice the beauty…don’t miss the beauty…see, it’s here…sometimes it’s hard to notice but it’s there.” in the middle of the mess of living in the trenches with people, sometimes i just get tired.  the needs always are bigger than our resources.  pain doesn’t magically disappear.  poverty is complicated.  abuse has long-lasting and brutal effects.  and a Jesus-centered life of descent as opposed to the life of ascent (even though that one’s taught in Jesus’ name, too) is definitely a bumpier road.

but that’s the road that Jesus is calling us to in the beatitudes.  it is a beautiful road.  and an ugly road (my friend deb made up a new word–beautifugly).  and most definitely the road i want to continue to walk because there’s so much to be learned here.

in this fourth beatitude, Jesus says, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (NIV).  in the NLT it says, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” the word in the king james for righteousness in the broader sense is centered on the way toward a state approved of by God, integrity, purity, virtue of life.  in the narrower sense, it is justice.

there are three parts of this beatitude to consider.

the first is the “hunger and thirst” part.  this implies that we aren’t where we want to be.  we aren’t satisfied with the status quo.  we want more.  people who are hungry and thirsty will go to pretty big lengths to try and find food & water.  embedded in these words are longing, desire, and some kind of movement.

in this past week i have had several conversations centered around women & the church.  biblical equality is such a foreign concept in so many evangelical circles & every time i think about the inequality & the perpetuating of oppression toward women that is basically the norm i get all riled up.  and it reminds me just how powerful the status-quo-and-what-we’ve-always-been-fed is.  if it doesn’t affect us, often we don’t really care.  if everyone else is doing it or buys into it or throws “God says” into the sentence, shouldn’t we, too?  hungering and thirsting after integrity looks to me like a holy-stirring inside that says “things are not right and i want to play a part in making them right.”

the second part of the beatitude–righteousness–might easily mispoint us toward personal piousness & making sure we somehow have our own ducks in a row. but what if we read it more corporately and considered communally what hungering and thirsting for integrity & justice really looked like in action?  so much of what i had been taught in a lot of my contemporary christian experience was focused on “personal righteousness”–basically making sure that i was “right with God” somehow.  it centered on thinking the right thoughts & believing the right things.  when i read this now, i see something far deeper. i see a corporate thirst for integrity & wholeness that comes not from ascending up toward God, getting one step away from our humanity and one step closer to godliness, but rather a descent toward embracing our humanness & need for God & the wholeness that comes from that.

the last part of the beatitude says that the blessing of hungering and thirsting for righteousness is that we will be fed, filled, satisfied. i don’t think this is a contentment that brings stagnation or inaction.  but i think it is a contentment that is God-fuel, holy spirit reminders like the one i got yesterday at the labyrinth–“i’m here, strong and firm, i’m underneath you, and i’m making beauty in the ugliness.” as i was walking the labyrinth the lovely words of julian of norwich, the 14th century mystic, came to me.  i knew it must somehow be God because it is very rarely something that i reference or think of.  she says, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” somehow that’s what satisfied, full, filled somehow means to me.

in the midst of Jesus’ seemingly-crazy-upside-down-living we can have deep peace. in the midst of longing for change in our own lives, in the lives of the world & the neighborhoods & churches & families, we can have deep peace.  in the midst of embracing our humanity & letting God work in our lives, we can have deep peace.  in the midst of actively pursuing justice & advocating for change, we can have deep peace.

God, help us be people who long for change, in our own lives & in the communities we live in.  and then, guide us as we act on those longings and pursue justice, integrity, wholeness and healing.  may we experience your deep peace in the midst.

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ps:  i posted this on facebook but i thought i’d share it here, too, as i know some of you aren’t on there.  it’s really great stuff from my friend craig spinks & recycle your faith called unprogrammed relationships. watch this one & also the one called a loving contempt.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

4 Comments

  • Hmm….I’ve heard righteousness defined as God’s way of doing”.
    Maybe another way of seeing it is hungering and thirsting after Truth.
    I love the way you state,

    “in the midst of Jesus’ seemingly-crazy-upside-down-living we can have deep peace. in the midst of longing for change in our own lives, in the lives of the world & the neighborhoods & churches & families, we can have deep peace. in the midst of embracing our humanity & letting God work in our lives, we can have deep peace. in the midst of actively pursuing justice & advocating for change, we can have deep peace.”

    Yes. Peace. That peace that makes no sense. That peace that lets you sleep soundly, even when you’re sleeping in your dad’s garage and hear gunshots outside….that peace that flows even when you are called heathen, backslider, apostate, etc., by those still in the religious bubble. That Peace is precious. It is even present when your whole religious & familial worlds get turned on their heads. 🙂

    Thanks for the reminder that He promises to fill those who hunger and thirst.

    Reply
  • I like how the Amplified states righteousness, for ex in Ps 23, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him–not for my earning it, but] for His name’s sake.” Righteousness being at state of relationship with God not earned but given by Him through Grace. His leading of us into that relationship done by Him for the honor of His name. All that is asked of us is to have a heart to follow…to hunger and thirst, and He will fill.
    …I think He has a much better grasp on what a heart open to following looks like for each of us than any other person does. Man cannot (will not) define my heart.

    Also, because it’s always worth being said: You rock.

    Reply
  • Perhaps both senses of the word translated righteousness are included here, but the ideas of integrity and justice resonate most with me and best seem to fit the context.

    So many injustices that grieve us, and surely the heart of God, continue, at least in part, because a minority use God and Scripture to “prove” that is what God wants.

    Three examples:
    -God & the Bible command us to tithe, which means gives 10% of our income to “the church” which goes mostly for properties and salaries. This usually means a nice place for us to meet and do things and nice salaries and benefits for staff. Somehow the poor and hungry get almost totally left out of the mix.
    -God & the Bible tell us that women are not equal to men, end of discussion. This usually means that men run the church as well as their wives and daughters.
    -God & the Bible tell us that LGBT’s are abominations, undeserving of God, equal civil rights and lots of other things. This usually means that LGBTs are not welcome in many churches and are given the clear understanding that they’re going to hell.

    Ever notice that the people who teach this stuff all have something to gain – if nothing else they want to retain their control & authority, and have an intense need to be right? I hunger and thirst for not only integrity, but also for justice in these areas. Let us share with the poor and treat women and LGBTs with the dignity with which they should be treated – as equals.

    Reply
  • katherine – yeah, that’s the kind of peace i want to continue to seek. thanks for sharing….

    skylark – i always look things up in the amplified, sometimes i love it, sometimes i get confused, but the part that i always appreciate is that the different translations help give texture and meaning to the passages in different ways for different seasons. thanks for reading and for being part. you bring more than you know.

    sam – oh that part really resonates–the gain part. i think we can all feel the difference when someone is coming from a place of integrity & justice, the deep, deep kind like i think this passage is pointing to, and the puff-up-i-have-the-right-answers kind. thank for sharing

    Reply

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