Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

The Beatitudes: Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
A Message on Matthew 5:6
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 29, 2022
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 5:6 (NRSV)

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

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As we continue our sermon series journey through the Beatitudes we come to one today that is easy to misunderstand. This is the fourth Beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

At first glance it may appear that in this verse Jesus is teaching about the importance of offering food to those who are hungry and clean water to those who are thirsty. And as Christians, we are called to help out those who are in need of these things. After all, in Matthew 25:35 Jesus says, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”

But, I don’t think that’s what this means.

We talked about this during Bible Study in Mini Methodists this past Wednesday. I did something that… well… some of the kids said was mean and cruel.

Before Mini Methodists began I went and bought a hamburger and an iced tea, but put them here behind the communion rail where the kids couldn’t see them. We reviewed what the beatitudes were, why they are called that, and read the scripture. Then I told the kids I was hungry, sat down right there, reached around behind the communion rail, and brought out that hamburger and drink. And then I started eating the hamburger, right in front of them.

I played it up real good, telling them just how wonderful it tasted. And then I would take a drink of the good ol’ slightly sweetened iced tea and talk about how delicious and refreshing it was.

Well as you can imagine that didn’t go over very well. The kids started asking questions: “Do we get hamburgers? Did you bring some for us? (With my mouth full: “No.”) Can we have the fries? Did you get french fries? (“No. I didn’t get fries. I’m on a diet.”) Oh man, you’re making me hungry! That is cruel! That’s rude to eat that in front of us when we don’t have any!”

Now it was a junior burger. And I only ate about half of it per class. But it really did taste good!

I then asked them if seeing me eat that burger made them hungry for one. Almost every hand went up.

I then tried to explain to them that what Jesus is saying in this particular beatitude is that those who hunger and thirst for God the way they were hungry for my hamburger and thirsty for my drink will be blessed and will be filled.

Food and drink is used as a metaphor quite a bit in the Bible.

For example, here is Psalm 42:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.” – Psalm 42:1-2

And what about this from Isaiah 55:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food. – Isaiah 55:1-2

And remember when Jesus is tempted by the devil in the desert after fasting 40 days? Satan tries to convince him to turn rocks into bread.

And then when Jesus meets the “woman at the well” in John 4, he tells her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” – John 4:13-14

And what about when Jesus tells his disciples, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” – John 6:35

And when we participate in the Lord’s Supper, what do we do in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice? We eat bread, “my body, broken for you,” and drink wine (grape juice, really), “my blood, shed for you.”

So eating and drinking are strongly linked with the scriptures.

It’s important to remember, though, that Jesus is using hunger and thirst as metaphors. Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst,” and just leave it there. No. He adds three very important words: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake.”

So what does this mean? What does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness sake?

I think a good place to start is with the root word of “righteousness”: “right.”

The word “righteous” has a good meaning. It means morally right, justifiable, virtuous, ethical. Those are all good things, right?

I use an online Bible study called Bible Gateway (biblegateway.com) and one of the things you can do is have it show you a Bible verse in all English-language translations. In case you didn’t know it, they list 62 English language translations of the Bible. (I know because I counted them.) Of those 62 English language translations, 46 of them use the word “righteousness.

The ones that don’t use “righteousness” use words like “justice,” or “goodness,” “God’s approval,” or “what God requires.”

Unfortunately the word “righteous” has somewhat of a negative connotation in our world today due to it being combined with another word to form the phrase, “self-righteous.” Being “self-righteous” means a person feels morally superior to someone, that they are better than others.

Christianity gets a negative reputation as a religion in which the adherents feel morally superior to those who aren’t Christian, and are therefore labeled–sometimes correctly–as self-righteous. And unfortunately, there are individuals (and institutions) that behave that way and further that negative reputation.

But I contend that we shouldn’t throw away the word “righteous” just because of the phrase “self-righteous.” “Righteous” is a good word, one that is… well… righteous!

When Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake,” he is talking about those who want to do the right thing, who want to live their lives serving God and others.

Let me give you an example of one of those people. George Griffin died this past Monday at the age of 94. Most of you know him, and if you didn’t I wish you could have. George to me epitomized someone who hungered and was thirsty for righteousness.

George did a lot of things here at the church but to my knowledge never called attention to himself in doing so. He was an integral part of our prayer team and would come and pray not only for church members, but also for me as the pastor of this church.

George was a regular member of our “Tuesday Lunch Bunch” that used to meet at Whataburger every week. He attended Sunday school and worship every week, and if wasn’t here there had to be a real good reason.

But probably the thing that impressed me the most about George was his working with the Mini Methodist kids.

Back when we Mini Methodist included up to 6th grade we would have about 150 kids arrive at the church every Wednesday afternoon. When they arrived, they dropped their backpacks off here in the sanctuary and then went to Waller Hall where they got snacks, sometimes corny dogs, sometimes nachos, pizza, etc.

When they got their food they picked up an empty cup and took it with them to a table. Then they would raise their hand and someone would come and fill their cup with either water or pink lemonade.

George was one of the volunteers that poured the drinks for the kids. Now remember, there are over a hundred kids in Waller Hall and being kids, they weren’t quiet. They talked with their friends and laughed and it got real loud and noisy in there. It still does!

And in the midst of the chaos, the noise, and the lovely aroma of elementary kids wafting through the atmosphere, there was George, a pitcher of water in one hand, and a pitcher of pink lemonade in the other, going from table to table with a smile on his face, blessing those who were thirsty. All this from a 90+ year old man!

Now I know that there are people in the church who, when their kids are grown and gone, adopt the attitude, “I did my time volunteering for children’s and youth programs when my kids were young. I’m not doing it anymore. The parents of the kids can step up and do it like I did.”

Theologically there are so many things wrong about that kind of attitude, but I didn’t have to worry about that with George. He had suffered through the death of his son and his wife, he was retired, and he could have done whatever he wanted to do on Wednesday afternoons. But what he chose to do was to serve drinks to noisy, sometimes odiferous children.

One Wednesday George was sick and didn’t come. One of the kids was sitting at a table and motioned me over. When I got there he asked, “Where’s that guy?”

“What guy?” I asked.

“You know, that tall guy, that pours our drinks?”

“Oh, you mean Mr. George! He’s sick today and can’t be here.”

The little boy looked up to me and said, “Oh no. I miss him. Well, tell him I will be praying for him.”

That experience reminds me of Jesus’ words in Mark 9:37, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

George hungered and was thirsty for righteousness sake. He not only read the scriptures, but he lived them out in his life as well.

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

George is no longer here to ask him, but if he were I am confident that he would say that indeed he was filled. Not in a monetary way, not in terms of attention or having the spotlight on him, but in the way of a humble servant hungering and thirsting for righteousness sake.

We should all be more like George. And that’s my challenge to you today, to hunger and thirst for righteousness like George Griffin did. Seek to live a life in the right way, seek righteousness, not for personal gain but as a servant and disciple of Jesus Christ.

If you do, George–and Jesus–will be proud of you. And I might even buy you a hamburger.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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