1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
We are born hungry! As babies, we soon let people know if we are hungry, tired or uncomfortable. Most of us are never more hungry than the day we were born, and yet have no memory of it. Indeed, in our language, to be ‘hungry’ means something quite different from what it means to someone who is truly starving in a land where ‘hunger’ means that there is nothing to eat.
Language changes, so we must be careful when we read biblical texts as we eat at our well-stocked dining tables. If we do not really know what the word ‘hunger’ means, we can easily misinterpret Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, in which he speaks for those who ‘hunger and thirst’ for righteousness. Jesus is not speaking of desire for a meal or a thirst-quenching glass of water. Such hunger and thirst were no doubt felt in Jesus’ time as they were now, but the possibility of real starvation underlies Jesus’comment.
In Jesus’ time, many workers had no fixed employment and they would wait in the agora (the marketplace) to be hired for a day at a time. A day’s wage was barely enough to live on. If they did. not work they were not paid, and therefore they and their families could not eat. This is not a situation with which we are directly familiar but it is not so long ago that agricultural workers in Britain were in a similar position: no work meant no pay, so no food, which meant real hunger. This is the kind of scenario in which Jesus’ parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) is set. Hence when Jesus speaks of hungering and thirsting, he not only means it but his hearers understand.
Jesus knew about this, not only because real hunger was a phenomenon of first-century life but because he fasted in the wilderness. Difficult as it may be for us, we should think of the search for righteousness in terms of a desperate, necessary craving for that which sustains us and prevents us from perishing. Without righteousness we are doomed, spiritually starved of that which saves us: the mercy, love and redemption of God, brought to the poor in spirit through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Father God, help us who may never have known true hunger to thirst after your righteousness and seek only you, that we may inherit your kingdom on earth and in heaven. Amen