Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. — Matthew 5.6
I find it interesting that Jesus doesn’t say “Blessed are the righteous”. In a culture like ours — one that is so individualistic and possessive — we might think of righteousness as something we are capable of possessing. I think a lot of people buy into this kind of thought: Blessed are the righteous, for they will be rewarded.
But that’s not what Jesus says. He says the blessed ones hunger and thirst for righteousness. According to Glen Stassen in Living the Sermon on the Mount, the Hebrew word for “righteousness”, tsedaqah means a justice that rescues and releases the oppressed; a justice that restores the powerless and the outcasts to their rightful place in covenant community. This is why it so often appears in the OT with another Hebrew word, mishpat, which means justice.
Jesus gives voice to this in his inaugural sermon in Luke’s Gospel, Luke 4. He unrolls the scroll and reads from Isaiah 61, a text about the justice of God that delivers the oppressed and the poor:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” — Luke 4.18-19
It should come as no surprise that the people who flock to Jesus are these types of people — the ones who hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness.
We would do well to link this Beatitude with 5.4, “Blessed are those who are grieved to the point of action, for they will be strengthened / encouraged / comforted.” Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness yearn for the reign of God to be complete, a place where His character is fully manifest. Their highest ideal is the passionate pursuit of the Kingdom of God. They seek a community where they can eat and drink that which they desire most.
As Christians, we should feel something when we hear the plight of our Haitian brothers and sisters whose sons and daughters are still buried beneath the rubble in their communities. We should be deeply concerned about an entire generation of young people being orphaned in Africa by the AIDS and malaria pandemics sweeping across that continent. We should be deeply moved in spirit by the circumstances of the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed in our own communities — because these are the ones especially concerning to Jesus. To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to actively seek to deliver people from need. Again, we’re grieved to the point of action.
“They will be filled…” because God is ultimately the one who will bring this kind of justice and righteousness to the earth in the new heavens, the new earth. We see a foretaste of this in Acts 2.42-47 – a community of mutual sharing, eating, where justice and peace and righteousness reign. Isaiah envisions this as a Messianic banquet on the mountain of the LORD (Isa 25):
You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress…On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are those who dare to faintly imagine such a place and pour themselves out in single-minded pursuit of such a dream.