Saturday, February 01, 2014

A, Epiphany 4 - Matthew 5:6 "Hunger & Thirst"

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Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6 ESV)
When a person is blessed, they’re set apart, they’re privileged, and they’re given more.  Some translations use the word “happy” but being blessed is happier than happy, rather one is holy when one is blessed.  Jesus declares this blessedness comes as a result of what?  Being poor in spirit, meek; or those who mourn, or are reviled and persecuted!
In the midst of these beatitudes, or these “attitudes of being holy” we hear those are blessed who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and yet only a few words later Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10 (ESV)
Now we must understand that righteousness here is not anything we can do for ourselves. For if one could obtain righteousness for and by themselves, then there would be no hunger or thirsting for it.  I’d just fill myself with righteousness.  But the appetite for righteousness is fulfilled when one is fed by someone else.
So we are blessed when we hunger and thirst for righteousness.  What is this hunger and thirst?  It is the desire, the passion, the yearning, and the craving.  It is the intense need for that which one hasn’t got, and so desperately needs or wants.  One might even say blessed are those who covet righteousness.  How can one covet righteousness and receive the kingdom of heaven? 
It’s an interesting question to ponder.  One that King David considered too!
O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbour, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honours those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved. Psalm 15 (ESV)
He asks the Lord, “Who can stop with you?  Who can hang out in your holy presence?  And then he worships God saying, he who walks perfectly without blame, does right, speaks the truth in and from his heart,  and conducts himself or herself in such a way, even if they suffer hurt from it they stick to their guns.
It’s at this point I begin to realise that the righteousness required to receive the kingdom of heaven is one that’s going to hurt; for righteousness’ sake I’m going to be landing smack bang in the middle of persecution.
Now I suspect you like me don’t like the idea of suffering and pain.  So then how am I to crave or covet God, his kingdom, and his righteousness?  Reality tells me it’s easier to seek first everything else rather than the kingdom of God, and it’s a lot less painful for my every day existence.
It seems to me I’m in trouble.  The word of God makes it quite clear, any showy self-righteous acts are just a complete waste of time.  Oh yes, they might make me feel good about myself but they’re not going to advance my cause before God.  I will be held high in the eyes of others but this is just vain glory, and if I believe my own popularity, I’m playing a game of deadly deception with myself.  Yes it appears any of my righteous deeds are about as popular with God, as one of my dogs coming to me for praise after it’s been rolling in its own filth!
You and I are in big trouble!  Left to ourselves and our own devices we neither have a hunger nor a thirst for righteousness, so therefore we won’t be satisfied, blessed, or made holy.  How can one desire something when one doesn’t even know what it is lest have the hunger or thirst for it anyway?
On the other hand, having been made known about the righteousness of God, I still don’t seek it, if I am honest with myself.  Time and time again I try to do the right thing but fail.  Over and over and over I act more like my foul smelling dog returning to its filth.  I try to be mission minded, I try to be forgiving, I try to be accepting of others, but deep within me rages my desire to throttle all the tall poppies around me so I’m the only one left standing proud and tall. 
The righteousness that I so often seek is one that persecutes all others so I can build my own kingdom where I can have my own way!
Yet God still comes to me in this condition.  This is truly surprising to me!  Why should I deserve such graciousness?  After all I know I am in trouble, I see in all my actions, a seeking of self righteousness.  Either I hold up my thin veil of pride to hide reality, or the veil falls away and I see the shame of one who cannot save myself from death.  But he still comes!
He sent his only Son to fulfil all righteousness!  The Son of God arrived at the Jordan, John baptised him into my life and I have been baptised into his.  And now Jesus fulfils all righteousness in me, and he does for you too!  He walks with me through life, taking what is mine and giving me what is his.  He takes my wretched cross and gives me his glorified crown!
… you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30–31 ESV)
He has places in you and me, even while we still struggle with the old sinful self, forgiveness and faith, blessedness and salvation, despite what we see in ourselves.  He makes us holy and happier knowing we have been freed from trouble even as we struggle with all the troubles in the world. 
And even as we struggle with the cravings and desires that lead us to covet all the unrighteous stuff around us I can say …The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1 ESV)
So whom shall you fear or be afraid?  Certainly not yourself, definitely not the devil, and you needn’t worry about the world either.  But in the reality of all this trouble we can constantly ask the Lord as King David asks of him…
One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. Psalm 27:4–5 (ESV) 
In the midst of tribulation troubles and toils, you can boast in the Lord and receive his blessings.  Therefore you can pursue God in prayer.  You can ask him to change your attitudes of being.  You can call on Jesus to fulfil all righteousness within you, and to lead you into his word so you can bear the wisdom of Christ.  And in doing so you will find yourself desiring and craving the temple of the Lord, seeking the beauty of the Lord and see him living this beauty in you as you are constantly immersed in and sprinkled with his word.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23:6 (ESV)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6 ESV)