‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.’Matthew 5:6
As I have suggested, the first four beatitudes identify places in which we are tempted to trust in earthly efforts, allurements, and human abilities. The first beatitude rejected wealth, the second rejected false comfort, the third rejected power. The fourth beatitude rejects something else: the status quo.
That this is the case may not seem immediately clear—what does Jesus mean by saying that people will be on-the-right-track with God when they are hungry and thirsty for righteousness? Once again, we can query the beatitude—what would it mean to be sated, right now, with righteousness? It cannot mean being perfectly righteous myself—in the first place, that is impossible. I will remain a sinner. In the second place, even if I were to strive to live as perfect a life as possible, what would it mean for my neighbour’s righteousness? In the ancient world, mere personal justice never exists—justice is always a statement of life in community. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. put it quite poignantly: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Either everyone has justice, or no-one has justice.
Here, then, is the unique sting of this beatitude: it suggests that if I am full now—if my belly and throat are fully sated—is that not in some sense at someone else’s expense? How can there be justice when I am fully satisfied while anyone around me has lack? How can I be full while other people are hungry? To put this another way, I can only have a clear conscience about being ‘full’ now if I close my eyes to that injustice. By doing so, I live in such a way as to preserve the status quo. But this beatitude calls on us to reject the status quo.
I cannot be truly happy or blessed while other people are suffering. I cannot live, self-contented and self-satisfied, pretending that suffering does not exist around me. When Paul describes the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12, he points out that if one part of our body hurts—our eye, our foot, or even a finger with a splinter—then the whole body feels it. If we take the Body seriously, then our unity means that we cannot ignore injustice among us. We cannot at the same time have people who are ‘full’—content and satisfied—while there are those among us who suffer at the hands of others, or economically, or physically, or socially. In Christ my happiness is bound together with your happiness. This is why Paul writes his condemnation of the Corinthian approach to the Lord’s table in 1 Corinthians 11—they are eating judgment upon themselves because the rich were gobbling all the food, while the poor suffered at their feasts!
To hunger and thirst is to be uncomfortable, to have less than you need, to be dissatisfied. Therefore, part of what Jesus recommends in this beatitude is that we find places in our lives to be dissatisfied, places where we can be uncomfortable. There should be spaces in the Christian life, in other words, where we don’t have everything we want on account of righteousness.
This goes further—this beatitude suggests that we should voluntarily suffer because we refuse to participate in injustices, even secondarily. This principle goes well beyond food. Is it right for me to wear a pair of shoes if I know that the workers who made them were children, labouring under unjust conditions, being paid unjust wages? Is it right for me to buy chocolate if it was produced by slave children? Can I eat this meal with a clean conscience, knowing that the farming practices that produced it created pain and injustice for other people?
To live this beatitude—to be hungry and thirsty for righteousness—is therefore to challenge the status quo. The world is eager to keep things the same. Change is painful, after all. Capitalism is eager for free markets that ensure low prices by means of limited regulation—regulations, for example, that would protect human workers and the environment. Fixing Capitalism’s flaws means changing laws, changing practice, and ultimately earning less. It’s much more comfortable to keep things the same. And besides, making things right is so very costly. Therefore, we ignore injustices, neglect wrongs, try to keep things as they are. To be full in this life is to turn a blind eye to the injustices at the edge of our sight, to allow our feelings of satiation to dull the edge of our commitment to God’s justice. But there is only one way to find true satisfaction—and that is through willingly becoming hungry.
How are we to do this? I do not recommend that we give up our homes because people are homeless, or stop eating because people don’t have food, or give all our money away because people are poor. I don’t believe that is what Jesus is asking of us either. But what he is saying is that if you plan to get on the right track toward the happy, fulfilled, God-life, then what you need to do is experience some voluntary hardship in your life. A great way to begin, therefore, is by finding an issue that gets you fired up, one that makes you passionate, and suffer with the people who suffer that injustice. You cannot be hungry and thirsty for everything, but you can let the Spirit of God lead you into being hungry where He needs your hunger most.
The fourth beatitude is an invitation to practical discomfort, an invitation to possess less than you need on account of righteousness. It may mean food—voluntarily going without a meal to remember that people starve. It may mean clothing—giving away extras, and purchasing ethically. It may mean friends and companions—removing yourself from the association with those who are overly satisfied with the world, who turn a blind eye to God’s justice. In wherever you feel led to hunger and thirst, you are being invited to identify with the suffering of others so that we can be filled all the more readily by God’s righteousness.
Blessed are the hungry, in other words, for they have not compromised with injustice. They have not settled for a half-justice. They reject the status quo. They are sold-out, and are waiting for the unveiling of God’s ultimate justice.
Let me be clear: no beatitude will get you more in trouble with the world, will make you more hated, than this one, because in choosing to be hungry and thirsty for the sake of the Kingdom, you imply a condemnation of the status quo. And the world has a vested interest in preserving its comforts.
What is the attitude of this beatitude? It is not smug self-righteousness, but a commitment to God’s righteousness that will not allow us to settle for things as they are. Until God and His Kingdom are completely revealed, we will be a people who share in the discomforts—however provisionally—of those who experience injustice. C. S. Lewis helps us to get the idea, when he speaks about the importance of giving money:
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.Mere Christianity, Book III.3 “Social Morality”
The promise, then, is that by staving off our desire for self-satisfaction we will receive true satisfaction—that the deep and longing hunger for justice that lies within each human heart cannot be filled by any temporary human medicine. No one has enough until all have enough, and Christ’s Kingdom invades with the inevitable stamp of justice.
Lastly, when we voluntarily choose these hungers for the sake of righteousness, God meets us—He invades into the thin spaces where we partner with Him in the work of justice. And then, His power steps in to supply our needs, and His fellowship is extended when we suffer with those who suffer. By means of willingly enduring hardship, we draw closer to the heart of God, who hungered and thirsted for us.
Be intentional about some giving. If you have financial resources, research into some local churches or charities that do go work and make a point of supporting them—either one-time or on a repeating basis. If there are no obvious local options, you could consider an organization like World Vision (who provide humanitarian aid), Compassion International (who sponsor children), or Release International (who assist the persecuted Church—they’re also known as Voice of the Martyrs).
If you don’t have financial resources, consider other ways you can give—what do you have that you don’t need? How can you serve with your time? Where could you volunteer?