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Blessed: The Be Attitudes – Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

Date: 05/09/2021/Speaker: Ps Pauline Ong

Jesus proclaims who are blessed in the beginnings of his Sermon on the Mount. So far, we have looked at the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and the meek. And today, we are looking more closely at:  

*Matt 5:6 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 
    for they will be filled. 

*There are two main parts that I want to explore with you today – what Jesus means when he says righteousness, and the nature of our hunger and thirst for righteousness and how it turns into the satisfaction Jesus promises. But before we dive into that, I want to first ask you what do you truly hunger and thirst for?  

*Question 1 (Word Cloud) 

What do you truly hunger and thirst for?  

When you take a moment to reflect on your life, what do you truly hunger and thirst for? The great thing about menti is that your responses are anonymous, and I hope this allows you a safer space to be honest and vulnerable. So please don’t feel like you have to answer “righteousness”. We will unpack that word later. First, let’s check in with ourselves and ask ourselves, “Soul, what do you truly hunger and thirst for?”    

As I was preparing for this sermon. I asked myself the same question. I took a breath and these words came to mind: Belonging, affirmation, to be fully myself, to be connected with God and community, the longing for meaning and purpose.  

What about you? What do you truly hunger and thirst for?  

There are so many things the human soul hungers for. All these are good and important things. So why does Jesus single out “righteousness”? Why is it so important for us to hunger and thirst for righteousness? And what does he actually mean by “righteousness”?  

*Question 2 (Open) 

What do you think Jesus means by righteousness? 

We know in the New Testament, righteousness has a few meanings:  

  • Us being made right with God 
  • Making all things right the way God intended (Justice) 

The Greek word for righteousness, dikaiosyne, means righteousness and justice, but especially being in right relationship with God. It’s about us being made right with God. And out of that relationship with God, we are involved in making all things right in our world the way God intended. This is not something we can achieve on our own.   

We often think of righteousness as another word for virtue. We think it means being moral or behaving correctly. But for the ancient Jews, righteousness was something much more dynamic. Righteousness wasn’t something you achieved but something you entered into. Cynthia Bourgeault invites us to visualize it as a force field: an energy-charged sphere of holy presence. To be “in the righteousness of God” (as Old Testament writers are fond of saying) means to be directly connected to this sphere of presence, to be anchored within God’s own aliveness. There is nothing subtle about the experience. It’s dynamic and electric and fierce. To “hunger and thirst for righteousness” is to seek this holy presence and find yourself in the middle of it.   

*And when you’re anchored in God’s own aliveness, you become alive to yourself, too. It’s like a homecoming, a reunion, a sense that you have finally come home. It’s a deeper sense of belonging…finally knowing our place in the world. It’s knowing who we are and to whom we belong. That’s when we truly come alive!   

That’s why Jesus promises that when the hunger arises within you to find your own deepest aliveness within God’s aliveness, it will be satisfied. In fact, the hunger itself is a sign that our bond with God is already in place. If you have a hunger for God and God’s holy presence, if you have a hunger to be made right with God, to be anchored in God’s aliveness as you come alive, it means your bond with God already exists. As we enter the path of transformation, the most valuable thing we have working in our favor is our yearning, our longing, our hunger. Some spiritual teachers will even say that the yearning you feel for God is actually coming from the opposite direction; it is in fact God’s yearning for you. That’s where it starts, right? God yearns for us first and when we begin to feel the yearning for God, we know our bond with God has come alive. Yearning is the evidence of that connectedness. 

So in this Beatitude Jesus is not talking about doing good deeds so you’ll be rewarded later; he is talking about first being in connection with your fundamental yearning for God. That’s the base for everything.  

Perhaps this morning, your soul is hungry and your heart is thirsty. You feel a longing for something and your heart is restless. You realize the things of this world — money, job titles, status, success, good looks – whatever – won’t fill that ache in your soul. There is something more, something deeper.  

*Augustine said, “You have made us for Yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.”    

It is only when we find rest in God, when we experience that yearning to be connected and alive in God that we can be involved in the second part of righteousness – which is, to make all things right in this world as God intended. How do we know that? By paying attention to the structure of this passage.  

*The Beatitude Sandwich 

Let’s look at the structure of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. You remember that there are eight Beatitudes. The first Beatitude in verse 3 and the last Beatitude in verse 10 give the same words of assurance: “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It looks like a kind of sandwich: the top piece of bread and the bottom piece of bread both say, “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 

*There are also two groups of four, and the first four and the second four end with a reference to “righteousness”. The first group of four ends with verse 6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” And the second group of four ends with verse 10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” 

So first, you hunger and thirst for righteousness. Then as you go along, as you are filled and  engage in acts of righteousness, you may be persecuted because of it. When we experience that yearning to be connected and alive in God, it naturally follows that we then become involved in acts of righteousness. Remember the first beatitude “Blessed are the poor in spirit”? The first 3 Beatitudes leading up to hunger for righteousness in v.6 are descriptions of emptiness, lack or poverty. They are beautiful in and of themselves. Afterall, it is only in our poverty that we recognize our need for God. And it is in our hunger that we realize our longing for God.  

But there is a significant transition from the first 4 Beatitudes to the next 4. There is a movement from emptiness and poverty to fullness and abundance. In other words, after pronouncing a blessing upon those who recognize their emptiness, those who mourn and those who are meek, Jesus now makes a transition from emptiness to fullness by saying that their hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.  

*When we look at the next three Beatitudes, we see that after hunger and satisfaction in verse 6 comes, “Blessed are the merciful” (in verse 7). Now the blessed person is full and overflowing in mercy. And verse 8 talks about those who are pure in heart. Then verse 9 says they are not just peaceful or full of peace, they are a peacemaker. They not only have peace within their own hearts, they help create peace for others. Then all this is rounded up with verse 10 where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness”. So from a hunger for righteousness, we see a movement to being filled and then it possibly leads to persecution for righteousness that is overflowing.  

*So what Jesus means by righteousness is: 

  • Us being made right with God – connected with and alive in God 
  • Making all things right the way God intended (Justice) through being merciful, pure in heart and a peacemaker 

The word “mercy” means love and kindness. So being merciful means showing someone love and kindness. That’s righteousness. I love how the Message explains “pure in heart”. It says “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” I think that connects with our first definition of righteousness, which is to be connected with and alive in God. To be aligned with God. And a peacemaker is one who brings peace and reconciliation into a tense situation or a broken relationship. All these are acts of righteousness.  

Barriers to Righteousness 

So what keeps us from righteousness? Why is it so hard to hunger and thirst for God’s holy presence in our daily lives? To yearn to come alive in God?   

*Question 3 (Open) 

What keeps you from hungering and thirsting for God’s presence in your life?  

Jesus expands on this beatitude in Matthew 6. A verse that is directly connected to this beatitude is Matthew 6:33. 

*“But seek first God’s kin-dom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” 

This famous verse is placed at the end of a passage about not being anxious about the necessities of life. If you read Matthew 6:20-33, you will see Jesus explaining about money, priorities and the necessities of life. You see, Jesus understands that we get anxious, worried, distracted and overwhelmed by the demands of life. And just as he assured the people then, he assures us now: 

I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,[h] or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 

And then he continues in Matt 6:30-33….     

*Matt 6:30-33 (MSG) 

30-33 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think God will attend to you, take pride in you, do the best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way God works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how God works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. 

Just look at the birds, Jesus explains, and the lilies of the field. Birds have food to eat because God provides for them. The lilies are dressed more beautifully than even King Solomon because God clothes them. And we, God’s children, are more valuable to God than birds and lilies.  

Jesus acknowledges our worries and our struggles. What we need is a change in our perspective and priorities. Jesus is telling us don’t be obsessed about money and our perceived lack of it. We often ask whether we will have enough money to solve our problems. But we never ask God if we have enough of God to deal with our problems.  

Let’s learn to trust the One who loves us and cares for us. God yearns to connect with us, and if we will only recognize the hunger within our souls, we will begin to realize we are coming alive in God. Only then will we truly be able to engage in acts of righteousness that is powered by God’s Spirit – showing mercy, getting our hearts and minds aligned with God, being a peacemaker. It’s important to listen to our hunger, our longings, our yearnings because these desires show us what is possible.  

*CS Lewis writes:  

  

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men [and women] feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.” -CS Lewis, Mere Christianity  

This reminds me of the song, Blessings, by Laura Story.  

*Blessings (Laura Story) 

What if my greatest disappointments 
Or the aching of this life 
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy 
What if trials of this life 
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights 
Are your mercies in disguise 

So if you have a greater thirst this world can’t seem to satisfy, it means you were probably made for another world. And our hearts will be restless until we find our rest in God.  

Recently, I read an interesting take on the Beatitudes by a Palestinian Christian named Elias Chacour.  

*Elias Chacour is a Palestinian Arab-Israeli, who served as Archbishop of the Greek Catholic Church in Nazareth and Galilee and is known for his efforts to promote reconciliation between Arabs and Jews – a true peacemaker.   

He wrote that knowing Aramaic, the language of Jesus, has greatly enriched his understanding of Jesus’ teaching. During Jesus’ time, the Jews spoke Aramaic (Jesus himself spoke Aramaic) but the New Testament is written in Greek. Because the Bible as we know it is a translation of a translation, Chacour says we sometimes get a wrong impression. For example, we are accustomed to hearing the Beatitudes expressed passively: 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied. 

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. 

Chacour says “Blessed” is the translation of the word makarioi, used in the Greek New Testament. “However, when I look further back to Jesus’ Aramaic, I find that the original word was ashray, from the verb yashar. Ashray does not have this passive quality to it at all. Instead, it means “to set yourself on the right way for the right goal; to turn around, repent.”. . . 

He says, “How could I go to a persecuted young man in a Palestinian refugee camp, for instance, and say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” or “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”? That man would revile me, saying neither I nor my God understood his plight and he would be right. 

*When I understand Jesus’ words in Aramaic, I translate them like this: 

Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for you shall be satisfied. 

Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God. 

To me this reflects Jesus’ words and teachings much more accurately. I can hear him saying: “Get your hands dirty to build a human society for human beings; otherwise, others will torture and murder the poor, the voiceless, and the powerless.” Christianity is not passive but active, energetic, alive, going beyond despair. . . . 

“Get up, go ahead, do something, move,” Jesus said to his disciples.  

Elias Chacour with Mary E. Jensen, We Belong to the Land: The Story of a Palestinian Israeli Who Lives for Peace and Reconciliation  

As we live into an alternative kin-dom – a kin-dom characterized by God’s presence, peace, love, hope, justice, generosity, and hospitality, we will get up, go ahead, do something, move and help meet the needs of others through Christ who gives us strength. 

At the beginning of this sermon, I asked you what do you truly hunger and thirst for, and you shared openly and vulnerably what came to your mind. As we close this sermon, I want to ask you the same question again. I wonder if anything has shifted or changed for you after hearing what Jesus means by “righteousness”? Perhaps the Spirit of God has been speaking to you about your yearnings, your longings, your desires, your restlessness? 

*Question 4 (Open) 

What do you truly hunger and thirst for?  

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  

Amen.