BEATITUDE FOUR

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

        When the Children of Israel left Egypt God led them through the Sea of Reeds into the wilderness of Sinai. They soon realized that there was no food and water in that wasteland. There in the desert they began to grumble against Moses and his brother Aaron,  “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16:3).
        Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way, I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days” (16:4-5).
        So, it was throughout their entire forty year sojourn in the wilderness. Every day the Lord provided them with this mysterious food they called Manna (Hebrew for ‘what is it?’). It was white like coriander seed. Coriander is a smooth herb with pinkish-white flowers. The seeds have been used as a spice and for medicinal purposes since ancient times. Whole or ground, they are also an important constituent of curry powder, and are used to flavor pickles, sauces and confectionery. The essential oil, which is obtained from the seeds by steam distillation, is used for flavoring gin and other beverages, in medical preparations, and in the cosmetic and perfume industries. Manna reminded the Israelites of this well-known herb. When ground and baked the Manna cakes tasted as if they had been made with honey.  They ate Manna until they reached the border of Canaan. After that it no longer appeared.
        In this manner, the Children of Israel learned that their lives were totally dependent upon God. Without the daily bread he provided they would have starved to death. The lesson was plain: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
        This theme occurred again when Jesus returned to the wilderness at the very outset of his public ministry to fast for forty days and forty nights. Racked by hunger and in a weakened physical condition, he struggled with the devil’s temptations. The tempter said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (Matthew 4:3). In this manner Satan tempted Jesus to use his powers for his own ends. He tempted him to become a ‘bread-king’ who focused upon the well-being of the body, but neglected the weightier matters of the spirit.
        Jesus faced this same temptation again when he fed over five thousand people beside the Sea of Galilee with a little boy’s lunch of five barley loaves and two small fish (Matthew 14:13-21). After that, the people followed him to the other side of the lake. When they found him, Jesus said,
        “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
        Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
        Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
        So, they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
        Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
        “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”
        Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:26-35).

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness
   
     Jesus spoke about the hunger and thirst for  righteousness. That word appears only seven times in Matthew’s gospel. Of the seven, five are found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In none of these places does righteousness mean fulfilling God’s demands in the sense of the Ten Commandments. Jesus did not ask his disciples to do some works. Instead, he asked them to believe in him and follow him.  He was the one and only one who was to fulfill the Father’s plans to bring righteousness as a gift to the people. John the Baptist was reluctant to baptize Jesus. To him Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). This is precisely what the Apostle Paul taught in his letter to the Romans:

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets (i.e. the Old Testament) testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement (or as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin) through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).

Jesus discussed righteousness also in his eighth Beatitude. We will come back to it when we visit that teaching. Even there and in its use to describe the Baptist as the one who came “in the way of righteousness” (Matthew 21:32), the word does not describe an ethical, moralistic type of righteousness, a fulfilling of commandments. Rather it was and is a proclamation of righteousness that the tax collectors and prostitutes accepted, but the chief priests and elders rejected (Matthew 21:23-32). Jesus is that “way of righteous-ness.” Only they who travel this road find truth and life. No other road leads to the Father’s house. Jesus alone is the one who has gone ahead to prepare a room there. He who would go there must follow this path (John 14:1-7).
        They who follow Jesus are “righteous” men and women. Because he and he alone have won for them this life-giving gift, they hunger and thirst to grow in their relationship with him. Like Joseph and Mary, Jesus’ parents, they are people whom God finds righteous (Matthew 1:19), because they act in faith. They believe God’s promises and act upon them, both in word and in deed (Matthew 1:20-25). They are therefore true children of Abraham, whom God credits as righteous because the righteous trust in the God who justifies the wicked (Romans 4:1-3). King David said the very same thing in Psalm 32:2 when he declared, “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” That was the consistent teaching of the old covenant. Habakkuk declared, “the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).
        Jesus was the one who first longed for righteousness, not his own, but ours. The Baptist pointed his disciples to Jesus, the one who makes us righteous. “Behold,” he said, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). We who have been reborn by this living hope follow Jesus. We find that he is indeed the bread whom God provides for our wilderness journey and day by day we rise to find that bread waiting to be eaten. We eat the bread and live. We are righteous in Christ Jesus. We are on the way to the Father’s house. And one day soon, we will experience the fullness of this blessing.

 

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