Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio


  Matthew 5:6   Ephesians 3:14-21   Psalm 107:1-9

      The 4th beatitude of Jesus states that “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteous-

ness, for they will be filled,” or in some ancient manuscripts, “satisfied.” So we start:

makarios, happy, favored by God are those who, first, “hunger and thirst…..” 

How are we impacted by the force of “hunger and thirst?” 

     As a parent, have you ever had this experience?  You’ve just brought in the biweekly or monthly

grocery order.  The kitchen cupboards are overflowing.  The deep freezer is filled.  The pantry

shelves are lined with canned goods.  Junior walks into the house.  “I’m starving.  Is there anything

to eat?”  “Yeah, I just went shopping.”  Junior proceeds to tear through the cupboards, deep

freezer, and pantry.  He walks into the living room disgusted.  “But mom, I can’t find a thing to eat

around here!” 

      Aren’t we blessed to be living in the plenty of early 21st century America?  Yet how many of us

really have any understanding of what it is to go hungry or thirsty?  To wonder where our next meal

is coming from?  Are we able to catch the full force and impact of Jesus’ statement to those crowds

which had been following Him through hill and countryside?  While I and the staff here at Central,

and those who serve our Needy Lunch and Second Helping programs, interact regularly with the

hungering and thirsting of our community, we can sympathize, but few of us can empathize, as few

of us have ever had to walk in those shoes.  I’ve never worn them. For my part, my stomach starts to

growl, so I just toss a Budget Gourmet into the microwave, or I head to McD’s for a Big Mac.  I’m

parched after doing some yard work, so I grab a crisp bottle of Aquafina from the fridge, or crack

open a cold can of Pepsi.  I’m at a restaurant waiting for my server to bring my order [I mean, I’ve

been sitting here almost seven minutes!], and think to myself, “I’m starving!  I’m so darn hungry, I

could eat a horse!”  The fact is, in our relative opulence, few of us know what it means to really and

truly “hunger and thirst.”  And those who really and truly do – Biafrin children caught up in Nigerian

civil war; political or religious prisoners in Sudan; refugees from Bosnia and Colombia; the poor living

right here in urban squalor or deep Appalachian poverty – we see them, but do we feel them? 

      Many – perhaps most – of those to whom Jesus spoke that day in Galilee, they knew what we do

not.  In the ancient world, as in many parts of the modern, hunger was and is not something which

could or can be satisfied with a passing snack.  It was, and is, a hunger that threatens life and well-

being; hunger in the sense of literal starvation in which a person has to eat, or die.  Consider that in

Palestine at the time of Jesus, the typical day-laborers wages were such that even one day without

work meant hunger invading the home.  There were no overflowing cupboards, filled deep freezers

or food-lined pantry shelves.  We talk about living paycheck to paycheck.  Among the crowds were

those who lived meal to meal. 

      The same is true of thirst.  We turn on a tap and drinkable water flows.  In the ancient world,

and in parts of the modern, people were and are dependent on streams and wells.  There might be

a long distance between them.  In Jesus’ day, hearers would understand what it was like to travel

miles on foot; throat, nostrils and lungs filled with hot sand, literally choking for thirst.  People living

in such conditions – conditions few of us have ever been forced to endure – knew and know the

thirst which must be satisfied as a matter of survival; as a matter of literal life or death.

      In seeking a fuller understanding of Jesus’ 4th beatitude, we need to catch the force of Jesus’

words, in effect:  Blessed is the one who longs for righteousness in the same way a starving person

longs for food, and as a person perishing of thirst longs for water.  In this beatitude, we hear strains

of an ancient Psalm:  “O God….l seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee,

as in a dry and weary land where no water is.”  Through His words, Jesus is placing before His followers –

and placing before us – a promise which is also a challenge and a demand.  In a few minutes, we’ll

talk about what Jesus meant by “righteousness.”  But the presenting question is this:  Do we desire

righteousness with the same intensity of desire, need and purpose with which a starving or parched

person desires, needs, and purposes to find food and water?  How badly do we want it?  How thirsty

or hungry are we?

      We are reminded of the challenge and demand of Jesus’ call to follow when He asks a rich young

ruler in so many words:  How hungry and thirsty are you to become a follower?  Enough to sell all

that you have and give the proceeds to the poor?  Or to Simon, Andrew, James, John: enough to drop

your nets and leave your homes?  Or to all His disciples: enough to take up my cross?  Or to the

church: enough to give me unconditional first place in your life?  In view of the clarity of Jesus’ call,

there are at least three things the opening words of this beatitude say about the life of Christian


      First, the Christian life is not really for those who are merely interested or attracted, but have

no desire to go any further or deeper.  The life of Christian discipleship is for those who desire

righteousness as a matter of life or death; even as the need for food and water is a matter of living

or dying. 

      Second, by implication, the Christian life will neither succeed nor satisfy if we do not genuinely

hunger and thirst for it.  The great barrier to the fullest life in Christ is a failure to want it enough;

a deep-rooted unwillingness to make sacrifices which discipleship requires; our fundamental desire

to not upset the apple cart of our lives, but to keep things as they are.  A question asked by this

beatitude, and a hard question it is:  Is our heart so set on righteousness as a way of life that we are

willing to submit to it; desire it; patiently await it?

      Third, the blessing of the Christian life is not about attaining or earning righteousness.  Life in

Christ blesses those who hunger and thirst for Godly righteousness, and understand it as a gift.  If

righteousness is perceived as something to be achieved and attained by human effort, we miss the

point.  The blessing is for we who are on the way; for we who continually and zealously seek the gift;

for we who really and truly hunger and thirst for righteousness as a benefaction which means life. 

And for God’s part, this beatitude tells us of the sympathetic and compassionate provision of God for

we who struggle on the Christian journey.  The life of discipleship is essentially for we who long for it;

pant for it even.  Again, the Psalmist captures it when he writes:  “As a deer longs for flowing

streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”

      So here we have it.  Makarios - blessed; blissful; divinely-favored “are those who hunger and

thirst” – seeking provision as a matter of life or death – “for righteousness;” “for dikaiosune

(di/kai/o/sune).  This Greek word is heavily-packed in its New Testament usage.

      Dikaiosune primarily means righteousness in the sense of right-living.  Dikaiosune is a word of

great significance in Greek ethics.  Righteousness so understood is the virtue of a person who is

constantly observant of his or her duty to God, and duty to neighbor.  Righteousness from this

standpoint is basically that love of God which is lived out in trust and obedience.  [We’re going to

sing a hymn about that very thing to close this morning’s service]  It is also right-living in response

to the great commandment given by God and ratified by Jesus which says to love God with all we

got, and to love our neighbor as ourselves; the golden rule if you will, which happens to show up in

the teaching of every true religion.  Jesus ascribes blessedness, not to the pious self-righteous who

see right-living as a means to an end.  Rather, makarios are those who hunger and thirst – who

desire as a matter of life and death – to live in happy response to God’s great commandment.

      Also, dikaiosune means justiceMakarios are those who hunger and thirst for justice for

others; those who urgently and intensely desire equity for those who are victims of inequity. 

“Blessed” are those who are impassioned in seeking justice and equity for the Biafrin child; for the polit-

ical and religious prisoner in Sudan; for the Bosnian and Colombian refugee; for the poverty-stricken

in northern Appalachia, or in the city of Massillon.  It is a universal truth that the work of every social

and political reformer from the prophet Amos, to President Lincoln, to Rev. Martin Luther King, to

activist Mahatma Ghandi, to Mother Teresa, was driven by what we might call “fire in the belly;” an

urgent and intense hunger and thirst for just causes.  For these folks, and so many others, establish-

ment of justice was and is a life or death matter.  These, Jesus says, are divinely-favored. 

      Lastly, dikaiosune means justification, which is defined as right relationship with God.  “Blessed

are those who hunger and thirst” for a right relationship with God.  That raises the question: How

do we get into a right relationship with the Almighty?  The first step is disarmingly simple.  We 

desire it.  Above all else we long for it, like a deer longs for flowing streams; like a starving person

longs for even a morsel of bread.  We can’t earn a relationship with God.  We can’t be good enough. 

We can’t do enough religion.  Justification doesn’t mean making ourselves just so God accepts us. 

Rather it means that God, in mercy and grace, accepts us in spite of ourselves, and sees us for what

we can become in relationship to God through our relationship to Christ.  If we think of God in terms

of stern judge and cruel enforcer of law, there can only be distance, fear, and estrangement

between us and God.  But once we realize that God is ready to accept us, love us, and forgive us –

even with all our warts and blemishes – that distance is replaced by intimacy; estrangement is

replaced by friendship; fear is replaced by loving and grateful trust.  And our first step:  wanting this

relationship more than anything else.  So “blessed;” blissful; favored by God; makarios is the per-

son whose most intense and urgent desire is to enter into right relationship with the Almighty.

      That leaves us the matter of the promise:  “….for they will be filled.”  The Greek word here for

“filled,” or in some translations “satisfied,” is [and I’m not gonna try to make you repeat this one; I

don’t know if I can, but here goes: cortasqhsontai (chor/tas/the/son/tai).  This is, believe it or

not, a common conversational word which was originally used in referring to fattening up critters.

In this context, Jesus uses the word to mean stuffing a person to the point of complete fullness.  If we

“hunger and thirst” for the righteousness God alone can impart, God will not us away empty. 

Rather, God will fill us until every longing is satisfied – be that longing for justice; be that longing for

the will to live in accord with and in obedience to God’s love commandment; be that longing to be in

right relationship with God.

      I don’t know of anyone who gets to the matter of such filling better than the Apostle Paul when

he leaves us words from his Ephesian letter.  We’ll make these our sermon’s closing words:  “For this

reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes

its name.  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be

strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your

hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the  

power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the

fullness of God.”  Amen.