Why does Jesus bless those who hunger and thirst for righteousness?
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
As a deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you; my soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water…. I lift my hands to you in prayer; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land thirsts for rain.
Psalms 63:1; 143:6
Hunger and thirst are metaphors we can all relate to. We know how satisfying a cool drink of water is when our throats are dry and how welcome a good meal is when we haven’t eaten in a while. But how many of us have ever hungered and thirsted for righteousness? What would that even look like?
The Greek word translated “righteousness” (dikaiosyne) is a broad term that must be defined by its context. In Jesus’s teaching, the term refers to the desire to live in a way that honors God–righteousness is the intention to think and say and do what is right. It is the longing to make Jesus’s words in John 4:34 our own: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
Later in the sermon Jesus will describe these hungry and thirsty disciples as those who “seek first the kingdom and God’s righteousness” (6:33). The key word in Jesus’s statement is “seek.” This is not a passive longing. It is an active seeking. We are not being encouraged to “let Go and let God.” We are being told to search for righteousness like our life depended on it.
When we pursue righteousness with that kind of passion there will be some subtle and not so subtle changes in our life–changes that will be reflected in our thoughts, words, and actions. We will begin to see how God is at work in the world, and we will want to participate in what he is doing. Our interests and tastes in movies, books, humor, etc. will change. Our family, friends, and acquaintances will notice the changes, and many will decide we are “peculiar” and not as much fun to hang out with.
People will notice there is something different about the way we talk and act–and in verse 10 Jesus says that “something” will get us persecuted. But we are not going to be persecuted if we remain silent and simply long for God’s will to be done–we will be persecuted when we roll up our sleeves and take part in what God is doing in our family, our community, and our world.
Another important aspect of the beatitude is the nature of the hunger and thirst. It is not the kind of hunger and thirst we can satisfy in this life without becoming self-righteous. When we stop desperately longing for God we may become like the Pharisee in Luke 18 “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”
Jesus says it is God who will satisfy our hunger and thirst for righteousness. In the meantime, our part is to trust that God will not ignore anyone who loves him and longs to do his will. When we have that kind of passion, we can be sure that God will satisfy our hunger and thirst for him. Jesus says we will be “fully satisfied” (a translation of the Greek, chortazomai, a word used to describe the fattening of animals). It is a colloquial expression that we might render “full” or “stuffed.”
But until our Savior returns to quell our hunger and thirst, we must remind ourselves of what Jesus told Satan in the wilderness: we require more than bread to live–we require the Word of God. So let us set our hearts and minds on things above (Colossians 3:1–4) and “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
Next: Blessed are the merciful.