Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Beatitudes: Part 4

Quick Review

The word translated as “Blessed” with which each Beatitudes begans, seems to be a promise of things to come. But the word is better translated as “O the bliss...”  Bliss is a word that properly belongs only to the gods. Yet, Jesus is stating that it is his followers’ now. As William Barclay says, “...The Beatitudes are not promises of future happiness...they are affirmations of the bliss into which the Christian can enter here and now.”

Today’s Beatitude: Starving Soul

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.  Matt 5:6

First of all, this Beatitude is about hunger and thirst. For those of us who have never really experienced hunger, it may be difficult to understand the depth of this one. Oh, we’ve been hungry because dinner’s late, but very few of us reading this will likely have experienced the relentless hunger experienced in parts of undeveloped countries, or even in the impoverished areas of our own city. The same is true of thirst. Quenching our thirst is moments away most of the time. We don’t have to go to a well head that operates only once a day, if that, to carry away all the water we need for the next twenty-four hours.

But Jesus knew of the kind of hunger and thirst people in underdeveloped countries experience. Indeed, during Jesus’ life time, there were many who could not be certain of their next meal or who often went to bed hungry and thirsty. So when Jesus speaks of hunger and thirst, he’s speaking to people who know its pain. In effect, he’s saying to them: Blessed is the one who longs for righteousness in the same way a starving person longs for food or a thirsty person longs for water.”

Jesus wasn’t the first to use this metaphor. In Psalm 42, the psalmist compares the deer panting for water with the soul of one thirsting for God. It’s a good metaphor and it’s easy to see why Jesus would have adopted it. He’s asking the question, “Do you desire righteousness as much as the hungry and thirsty desire food and water?” Elsewhere he says he has no place to lay his head, even though foxes have holes and birds have nests. Then he asks, “Do you want to follow me enough to have a life like that?”

To put it another way, a Christian can’t really say, “I’m interested in Jesus.” Rather, a Christian would say as Paul did, “For me to live is Christ,” or “I surrender to Jesus.”  In Luke’s version, he has Jesus say, “Woe unto you who are full! For you shall be hungry,” meaning if one is self-satisfied now, beware of a day that will come when it will all seem empty to you.”

On the upside of this demanding Beatitude, Jesus is not talking about the bliss obtained by those who have obtained righteousness. He’s talking about the bliss of those who seek it with their whole heart and mind. On a more mundane level, we can compare this to those of us who practice some skill or craft as a hobby, perhaps sewing or painting or woodwork. Our excitement comes, not because we have achieved perfection in our hobby, but because we see our dedication to it improve our work. We continue to strive for more improvement, but we don’t withold our pleasure waiting for perfection. In this way, our striving for righteousness is the minimum requirement for this bliss.

Having spoken of righteousness, let’s take a minute to define it. Like many words, it is rich in meaning. One meaning is justice for the world, not just ourselves. Another is righteousness in the sense of living right. A third is justification, such as our theology tells us comes by faith. The first two seem obvious, the third may need a bit more amplification.

The word in the sense in which Paul used it in his writings means to treat and accept another person as if that person is a just and good person. God, through Christ, has “counted us as righteous,” Paul says. God’s grace and mercy allows God to see us as if we are without sin and acceptable to God. Far from being a punitive God, God is, by nature, loving and accepting. Since very few of us can pull that off, it may be very hard to understand this attitude. But, understand it or not, it’s God’s attitude towards us. It is because of this that we will be “filled” in the words of the Beatitude. The Greek word is “stuffed to the point of complete satiety.” Not unlike how many of us will feel after Thanksgiving dinner!

Now we can state the Beatitude in a new way: O the bliss of those who hunger and thirst after a right relationship with God, for they shall be filled to bursting, until his/her longings are achieved and soul is satisfied.

Hunger and thirst to you!  Jerry+

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