HUNGERING FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON JANUARY 30, 2011
Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
The last 50 years have seen a strong emphasis on social justice as an expression of Christian discipleship – in keeping with the words of Micah 6:8. As a teenager I was very impressed at the stand taken by the Anglican Church in South Africa against apartheid.
At the same time, here in the U.S.A. Episcopalian priests marched in the civil rights demonstrations in the south. Throughout the Western world the 1960’s were marked by demonstrations against war and racism.
For my generation it was a ‘coming of age’. Young people were no longer content to be seen, but not heard!
Suddenly that gentle, dignified, respectable church called the Episcopal Church became concerned about social justice. Every change in our church since then has been justified on the basis of social justice, ranging from liturgy to holy orders. Now it has reached the stage where the gospel seems to have been replaced by the U.N. Millenium Development Goals.
Of course, Christians should be concerned about the gap between rich and poor, the future of our planet, and racism. Jesus said – perhaps ironically – “the poor you have with you always.” And, no less a group than God’s chosen people, the Jews, know all about suffering because of racial discrimination.
The question is…….when Our Lord gave us the beatitudes, were they a manifesto for social justice?
Some preachers would suggest they are. I do not think it is that simple.
When it comes to the beatitudes, we need to be careful that we do not read into them our own priorities and bias.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit” has nothing to do with unemployment or welfare.
Similarly, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” can be easily applied to any group being persecuted. But what about the word, righteousness?
All through the Old Testament righteousness is a quality attributed to God himself. God is righteous – and he will execute righteousness.
This has a two-pronged implication for us:
+ Righteous behavior and justice
+ Giving God the honor which is his right.
When we come to the New Testament use of the word, righteous, the concern is about how we are accounted as righteous before God.
St Paul makes it quite clear. We are not made righteous with God because of the righteousness of the Law – but because of the righteousness of Christ.
It is not what we do, but what Jesus has done – by his death and resurrection.
Everything we do as Christians is a response to being made righteous through Christ. Be it social action, or just helping others.
Let us look at the beatitudes, therefore, from another angle.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” has a different meaning to what, at first, seems like a concern for those who are starving. When we look for the word, thirst, in the Old Testament we immediately think of Psalm 42:
Like as the hart desires the water-brooks, so longs my soul for Thee, O God. My soul is thirsting for God, the living God. When shall I enter and see the face of God?
To those listening to Jesus on the mountain that day, the reference to those who thirst for righteousness would immediately bring to mind Psalm 42. It would also evoke that image when Moses struck the rock in the wilderness, and out flowed water.
In the mind of Jesus’ disciples the reference to those who hunger and thirst goes straight back to those 40 years in the wilderness – that great time of struggle and formation of God’s chosen people.
The contrast between the fleshpots of Egypt and the meager diet of manna for 40 years in the wilderness of Sinai was sobering. How they longed to go back to the fruit and meat of their days in slavery! It is an image of the attractiveness of sin – and the struggle to be faithful and righteous.
They called it manna – which means, “What is it?” – because it seemed such a poor substitute for the benefits of slavery. This was their daily ration, and they had no control over it. But it was enough. Perhaps that is the ultimate meaning of the beatitudes?
This ties in with what Jesus said later in the sermon on the mount: Take no thought for the morrow, and Do not be anxious about what you are to eat or what you are to drink.
These were not just pious sayings – but almost a warning. They link with the well-known petition, Give us this day our daily bread.
But it is not enough to look back to the wilderness experience. The beatitudes also look forward – and especially this fourth one about those who hunger.
Call to mind the feeding of the 5,000. This was strikingly similar to the giving of the beatitudes. On a mountain Jesus teaches his disciples. And in a desert place he feeds them in a miraculous way – just like Moses did in the wilderness.
But the crowd failed to discern the sign. They related it to the manna – no doubt having the same question, What is it?
They thought perhaps they were getting bread from heaven – as their forefathers did, all those years ago.
However, Jesus told them that Moses did not give them bread from heaven. In fact, God was giving it to them now. It was none other than Jesus Himself!
“The bread from Heaven,” says Jesus, “is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger.” How blessed, indeed, are those who hunger for righteusness.
Jesus is the one who satisfies those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. And now he coems to us as bread from heaven – to satisfy our poor souls.