The Bare Soul
September 20, 2009
The Beatitudes - Righteousness
Matthew 5:6 - Blessed are those hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Some have suggested, with a good deal of tongue in cheek, that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. While this of course is subtle sarcasm cloaked in irony, there are many immutable laws written into nature's DNA that are irrefutable and irreversible. One of these is the physiology of all living organisms needing and requiring sustenance. To our own personal concern and of even more immediate certainty would be if a person was denied daily sustenance and drink for a protracted period of time. The human body is quick to tell us when we have not provided for its essential needs. The fuel in our proverbial tanks needs constant filling and refilling. Most certainly, God made us this way for a reason. Just as the body cannot survive efficiently without life-giving nourishment, neither can the spirit and the soul of a man or woman without spiritual food. Jesus compares this natural, daily occurrence in the life of every human being with that of a spiritual phenomenon that should be working in parallel. Oftentimes, when there is a physical manifestation of a natural law there is more importantly a spiritual dynamic that will dwarf the importance of the former.
In first century Palestine, poverty for many lower- to middle-class families was a daily reality. Taxation was growing at an alarming rate as the trickle-down effect from their Roman "protectorates" meant that there were more hands in the pockets of the working poor. Jewish tax-collectors called upon to do Rome's dirty work were despised as thieves and robbers of their fellow countrymen. Not only would they take the governor's share but they would line their own pockets with a "surcharge" above and beyond their wage. The people of Israel not only felt the daily burden of trying to raise a family in the midst of some of the most egregious extortion by their fellow Jews, but they were treated as mere slaves being taxed with no representation or possible recourse for their servitude. The deepening of their economic depression meant dwindling resources for the most basic needs. Undoubtedly, many families suffered during this time as many felt the pangs of hunger as they tried to eek out a living while their children cried for lack of bread. In this societal and political climate, Jesus Christ chose to give one of the most important sermons of his short ministry. Many were hoping that Jesus would be the one to turn their poverty into prosperity -- that out of their present depression would come such a profound deliverance from their current misery as only could be wrought by the very Son of David, the Messiah. Certainly, it was a huge disappointment to some who failed to have "ears to hear" what the Lord was trying to tell them that day. Jesus knew that many of His countrymen were acutely aware of hunger due to the current economic duress. Furthermore, He understood the arid, inhospitable surroundings of Galilee and the necessity of water. This gave Him the ideal metaphor to help His audience understand the same intense longing and yearning for righteousness. He did not promise to fill their bellies with the morsels of this earth or the water that will refresh only for a moment. Instead, He promised a righteousness that would surpass that of the Pharisees and ensure them a filling and an overflowing of their innermost being that they had never imagined.
The prospect of being "filled" and not wanting must have appealed strongly to many of Jesus' contemporaries. The perplexity to many who intently listened was undoubtedly how one arrived at this state of blessedness. The beauty of the Lord's words in the Beatitudes is that they are pronouncements of an accomplished spiritual character. Literally, an attitude that has been perfected in the heart and mind of God in a human being until God makes a declaration that this person is "blessed". Fortunately, Jesus does not orphan his audience with merely telling them how they ought to be, but then goes on in the Sermon on the Mount and tells them HOW to arrive at this place of blessedness. The Lord is quick to point out that earthly pursuits will never fill us. They may give us temporary relief from the discomforts of this world, but they will never truly satisfy. The spiritual axiom that Jesus always taught is that in order to be filled, one must empty oneself. There is no other way. No where in Jesus' sermon was that more characteristic as in Matthew 6:25-34:
For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
To the dismay of many who were looking for an end to their temporal discomforts, this statement probably made little or no sense. For others, it may have angered them as seeming insensitive to their current plight. However, to those who believed Jesus' words, a life of fullness awaited those who would but empty themselves of their own self-righteousness. In turn, a new and living way full of the goodness and righteousness of God would fill their existence. By this trust, Jesus promised not only to meet their spiritual needs but also to meet those of a material nature if they would but set their priorities accordingly. God emphasizes by His word that first-century Israelites, as well as humankind today in our 21st-century societies, should never super-impose their wants over their needs. This becomes idolatrous and self-serving and displaces Him as Lord of our respective lives. Even today as centuries ago, many are challenged financially as they wonder how to make ends meet. Jesus Christ's promise is just as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago. If we will but seek God's righteousness with the same yearning that we do for our daily sustenance, then we shall not only be filled, but all our needs WILL be met. God has never broken His promise and will continue to meet our needs if we will but trust in Him, beloved. We must ask ourselves: Have I separated myself from my wants and my desires and allowed God to clarify my needs? Only as we empty ourselves and give ourselves to hunger of a spiritual nature, only then can He fill us to overflowing in ALL areas of our lives!
Lord Jesus, thank you for your Beatitudes. They truly are a reflection of You and Your Father and the beauty of Your character. Help us to empty ourselves of self and wait and long for You to fill us with Your righteousness. For only then will we truly be satisfied. In Your Name, Amen!
Your Barefoot Servant,
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