I am in the middle of a book by Derwin Gray about the Beatitudes, The Good Life. The chapter I recently finished is a discussion on hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Gray does a great job talking about what this looks like, and I appreciate his integrity to the text. Last night I read the social media posts with #Ican’tbreathe. My heart broke for another story adding to the deep broken narrative of America, or really of humanity.
I laid awake praying for that family aching with such violent loss by those that they should be able to trust to do right. My heart ached, and I prayed for all the police officers who really do the best they can and do their job well, but will suffer the consequences of yet another violent end to a black man’s life. My heart aches for all the families of color that truly live in fear of authorities, because it is not safe for them. I pray, Lord have mercy. I pray for the city that will suffer greatly in the wake of this, as people deal with huge emotions. I pray again, Lord have mercy.
I crave justice. I crave for this world to be set right. I pray to know what I can do to help, and not just join the social outrage reaction. In Biblical language, I hunger and thirst for righteousness. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount He lays out what we now call the Beatitudes. Blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled. That was the one that always resonated with me and still does.
I was that justice kid in high school. I joined Amnesty International and wrote letters, I donated money and had the Greenpeace pin, thanks to one kid in my high school who knew action was connected to passion, I learned about Cesar Chavez and participated in a grape boycott and tried to bring awareness to the plight of migrant workers. All this was addictive and fed my hunger, but also my anger and frustration. It always seemed to come up empty, because there was always more injustice. This being filled never seemed to come.
Many years later I was leading a study on the Sermon on the Mount and was stopped in my “righteous” indignation tracks. There was a part of the Beatitudes that I either was just never aware of, or conveniently forgot. Either way it was the piece I needed to stop chasing justice with an outraged heart and coming up empty. Our resource for that study, and one of my favorite books, was from Martin Lloyd-Jones on the Sermon on the Mount. Instead of painting the Beatitudes as separate entities, he talked about how they were a whole picture of the Kingdom that Christ was bringing. They all worked together and could not be separated.
For the first time I saw how I liked to parachute into the “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” and skip over the poor in Spirit, meekness, etc.. The result of this jumping in midway through the Beatitudes was to demand mercy and justice, to be outraged at the injustice and angry at all those who seemed to be in the wrong. I wanted God to make things right, and I usually had a list of suggestions. It seemed He would come up short, and I found myself in the seat of judge which I knew was a dangerous spot but wasn’t sure how to stop my cycle.
As I read this commentary by Lloyd-Jones, I became aware that the Beatitudes are not a buffet that we get to pick and choose from. I do not get to work at one, and leave another for someone else, as if they were Spiritual gifts instead of characteristics of the Kingdom of God, of His people. There was no picking and choosing according to Lloyd-Jones, and others I have read with open eyes since this revelation. The earlier ones must be the foundation of the later. If not, then other sins will seep in without even realizing it. There is also the temptation to interpret the others through the one we like.
Before ever getting to hungering and thirsting, one must admit their own poverty and need of a Savior. We need to be honest about ourselves and what our own weaknesses and temptations are, and then the second is along those lines. We must mourn and grieve our sins and the injustices we cause, along with those of the church’s and the world’s. Both involve deep soul searching and honesty. After this deep soul searching and honesty it is terribly hard to be arrogant about who we are as people. The next light shown on the heart of the Kingdom is meekness… blessed are the meek… meekness comes out of receiving mercy and grace for our sins. It gives us compassion for others and helps us to see others. It is no longer my agenda and me as judge and jury.
This allows our hearts to break for the things that break God’s heart and to grow in true hunger and thirst for righteousness. Not the idea of them, but truly joining in with the brokenness, and desiring to enter in and add light and hope to a situation. To truly be part of the change, I must change. I must use my influence to help bring about the change, but I need to first start with me.
Do I really have of an accurate view of how desperate I am, and how much I add to injustice, either by the sin of commission or omission? Am I walking in meekness (strength that is under control) so I can see and pray; so I can pray and listen; so I can listen and act when it is within my power. I want to know when to act and how to act. As Jesus continues this sermon, He sandwiches the hunger and thirst for righteousness between meekness and mercy, before peacemaking meekness and mercy, God’s very heart. Without one or the other we either become passive participants, or active ones in allowing or promoting injustice and evil.
This Kingdom seems almost too good to be true. It seems almost impossible until you read the gospels and see how Jesus showed us exactly what the Kingdom of God is like, and then left us His Holy Spirit to help us walk its ways. Our role is to humble ourselves and allow the Spirit to show us the truth, and let Him lead us and teach us in the way of righteousness for His name’s sake. Anything else will always turn up empty, or worse lead to adding injustice and brokenness to situations and people that are already weighed down by sin and selfishness around them and in them.