Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
In Jesus’ description of what makes for contentment in life, otherwise known as the Beatitudes, one of the things He points to is a hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).
What is the meaning of this to those of us who want to find what makes for contentment?
My dictionary defines “thirst” as “discomfort or distress due to a need for water; a craving for any specified liquid.” It defines “hunger” as “a need or craving for food; the discomfort or physical debility caused by lack of food.”
The thing that’s good about thirst is that it drives me to take a drink of water when I need it. The thing that’s good about hunger is that it pushes me to get the food that I need.
Jesus is letting us know that the makings for contentment in life have to do not just with hunger and thirst for the things that satisfy us physically, but with a hunger and thirst for God’s goodness and justice and integrity to live within me and to be lived out in the world around me.
Hunger and thirst are powerful images. In the physical realm, if one’s hunger and thirst are not adequately dealt with, weakness, disease, and death could follow. Dehydration can lead to cramps, urinary tract infections, kidney stones, kidney failure, seizures, low blood volume, heatstroke, and even death. Undernutrition can result in deprivation of critical vitamins which can cause scurvy or other health problems, stunted growth, weakness, and death.
Should we expect any less danger in the spiritual realm? If one’s hunger and thirst for righteousness are not adequately dealt with—if one lacks goodness, justice, and integrity in one’s own life, and if one gives no regard to goodness, justice and integrity in the world around him or her—will we not also see extensive damage to the person’s soul? Will there be stunted spiritual growth? Will aspects of one’s soul (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness) shrivel up? Will one’s spirit become weak and diseased? What chance is there for contentment under such conditions?
In his commentary on this verse, William Barclay remarks, “This beatitude is in reality a question and a challenge. In effect it demands, ‘How much do you want goodness? Do you want it as much as a starving man wants food, and as much as a man dying of thirst wants water?’ How intense is our desire for goodness?”
Later he adds, “It would obviously make the biggest difference in the world if we desired goodness more than anything else.”
Yes, it could make “the biggest difference in the world” if enough of us hungered and thirsted for God’s goodness, justice, and integrity to live in us and to be lived out in the world around us. But this verse begins at a more personal level: It could make the biggest difference in me (and in you) if I (and if you) hunger and thirst for God’s goodness and justice and integrity, because that hunger changes me from a selfish, self-centered mindset to a heart of compassion and goodness—and that is the makings for contentment.