Beatitudes – Matthew 5:6
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice (or righteousness), for they will be satisfied”.
Today we are continuing our look at the beatitudes, “King Jesus’ inaugural address, explaining what He expects of members of His kingdom.” With the fourth, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.
But first let’s briefly look back at the first three Beatitudes:
1. Firstly, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Which Lynette defined as humility or recognising the need for God’s help.
2. Then we look at “Blessed are those who mourn, as they will be comforted”
3. And last week, “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”
And so we come to beatitude number four. I wanted to start by looking at the word ‘blessed’. A few weeks ago in the first sermon on the Beatitudes, Lynette defined the word blessed as “a state of well-being in relationship to God that belongs to those who respond to Jesus’ ministry.” The Hebrew word here is ashrai meaning ‘things might seem difficult for you now but it will be worth it in the long run’. I know that sounds a bit cliché, or you might be thinking ‘that’s all very well but how does that help me now?’ We need to take both definitions together. The promised blessing in these beatitudes is a well-being relationship with God which provides hope that our suffering and hardship will be worth it in the long run. The relationship that offers hope of restoration and reconciliation.
And what of the rest of the beatitude what does hunger and thirst for righteousness or justice even mean? Both justice and righteousness are translated from the Greek word dikaiosyne, but in our understanding, justice and righteousness mean two quite different things. Righteousness implies an inner spirituality. It is more about the individual’s personal relationship with God, how one acts, thinks and relates to God. However justice implies more of a setting things right in the wider world. These days it is typically associated with ‘people getting what they deserve’. We have a justice system with courts and judges and juries, where criminals get caught and pay for their crimes.
Whilst these two elements are quite different, there is no separating one from the other. God is interested in both the personal relationship you and I have with Him as well as our passion for setting things right in the wider world. It’s important to note that the justice Jesus is talking about is not revenge, but instead is seeking to put things right in the world.
So the fourth beatitude is saying something like, “Blessed are those who ache for the world to be made right, for they will be satisfied”.
The work of the Church is the work of the Kingdom of God, work that includes social justice.
It is about both personal spirituality and social justice, the two go together. A person in right relationship with God is intensely interested in setting things right in the wider world. As Christians we are called to be Christlike. In Matthew 12:18 it says of Jesus, “He will proclaim justice to the nations.” Thus we too shall proclaim justice to the nations. But what does that mean? What does it look like?
We heard all throughout May Mission Month how we as a church are proclaiming justice to the world and supporting organisations that are doing the same. TEAR, Baptist World Aid, GIA just to name a few. We sometimes have petitions going around to sign, for example a couple of weeks ago the petition going around was to stop oil drilling in the Great Australian Bite. These are just a few examples of how we can and are proclaiming justice to the nations.
I imagine most of you are familiar with the unjust events that are continually occurring in our world today. From the bombing in Manchester a week before last to the car bomb just a few days ago in Baghdad. With so many innocent lives being lost, we are left questioning, where is the justice? How do we respond if we are to be proclaimers of justice? I believe that we are to trust God to bring justice to these situations. It is not our place to be vigilantes or retaliate. We need to trust that God has everything under control, whilst praying and providing the necessary support to those who suffer. There is a time and a place for us to work towards justice, but unfortunately there are also times when there is nothing that we can do but pray. And in those times we must pray and trust in God.
Jesus’ claims and challenges in the beatitudes have a political element to them, Jesus was challenging the politics of His time with His own politics of love. We are called as Christians to follow God’s alternative government which does not fit neatly into one of our political parties. Therefore it is natural that there are things in our government that we agree with and disagree with, we must focus on God’s politics and ethics and live them out. It is important that we remember this, God’s politics are number one, we follow them first and if our laws ever change to oppose God, then we are to follow God above our political system, despite the consequences.
We see examples of this throughout the Bible where people have obeyed God over the law of people and had to face the consequences. One such example is Shadrach, Meshack and Abednago in the Old Testament. I’m guessing most of you would know this story so I’ve got a small clip from the Veggie Tales version, “Rack, Shack and Benny” to refresh your memory.
Rack, Shack and Benny stood up for what was right even though it meant they would be thrown in the fiery furnace. And God honoured them for that.
It is natural for us in our proclamation of justice to feel passionate about it. The image used in this beatitude is ‘hunger and thirst’. This is powerful imagery, it is not and will not be a passive want. Not ‘it would be cool I guess if there was justice’. It is a desire, a need, a yearning. It implies desperation. Hunger and thirst means that something as important as food or water is missing. We must be lacking something that we need to survive. There must be pain involved, it hurts until it is satisfied.
And the same applies to righteousness, as I mentioned earlier, both justice and righteousness are used in this beatitude. Thus we must hunger and thirst for righteousness. It is our desire to be Christlike, since Jesus is the definition of righteousness. It is a longing to be holy.
Finally, what does it mean to be satisfied? Honestly, I am not 100% sure. Justice will come at the end of this world and the beginning of the next. We will be made whole and righteous and we will understand God’s perfect love. But as for now, it will most likely mean different things for different people and different situations. So let us work towards being like Christ in everything that we do including developing our relationships with God and working in this world towards God’s justice. Let us not lose hope when we feel as though our longing will continue to go unsatisfied, but let us press on and continue to work holding on to the hope that we have in Christ that it will not all be for nothing.