I find it equally interesting and humorous to see what happens to people when they get hungry. When our newborn baby starts to fuss or cry, my first thought is, “Is he hungry?” On most days, the first words out of the mouth of my four year old are, “Dad, you make me breakfast?” On a good day, she might say, “Dad, please you make me breakfast?” If you are anything like me, you may be familiar with the term “hangry” (anger as a result of hunger). In those moments, my emotional and mental well-being starts to come into question as if I transform into a completely different person if I go too long without eating (apologies to my family and those around me when I reach that point). The decisions surrounding how we approach hunger or eating (what, when, and how much) has huge implications on more than just our physical being, but our mental, and in some cases, our emotional state. Jesus alludes to the concept of hunger within His “Sermon on the Mount” as it pertains to our spirituality.
In Matthew 5:6, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). Be it from reading the Bible, growing up in church, or being raised in a Christian home, if you classify yourself as a Christian, I think it would be safe to say that we share a general awareness or idea of who we are called to be. We look to the Ten Commandments, the Fruit of the Spirit, even the Beatitudes here in Matthew chapter 5 for some descriptors of a Christ-follower. What is fascinating about this passage is the language that Jesus uses to convey His message. Rather than just saying, “Blessed are those who pursue righteousness,” He says, “hunger and thirst.” In typical Jesus fashion, Jesus takes a common idea or concept that everyone would understand, but presents it in a way that packs it to the brim with life-altering meaning.
When reading this passage, I was reminded of the Pharisees who were the experts of religious practices, law, and tradition of that time. If anyone were to know the way of righteousness it would be the Pharisees. Listen to how Jesus refers to the “religious elite” later in Matthew, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28). The Pharisees were full of spiritual knowledge, but they did not hunger or thirst for righteousness. Just like the Pharisees, we miss the mark unless our lives are changed through the acknowledgment that we ourselves are unrighteous apart from the redemption through Christ’s blood.
Having attention or awareness of righteousness is a good start (I certainly would not say that it is a bad thing), but Matthew 5:6 shows us that there is a lot more to it. This pursuit of righteousness is something for which we need to hunger and thirst. It needs to be the sustenance with which we regularly fill and fuel ourselves. Much like food and drink, it is a basic need – the essence of life.