Righteousness and Justice

We’re spending one week on each of the blessings that begin Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) introduce us to Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven. Our focus this week is found in 5:6 — “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

 

Monday, September 30

Read: Isaiah 55:1-2

Consider: Cravings. All of us get them from time to time. Our minds fixate on a certain food and we determine that it is the only dish that will really bring us satisfaction. Sometimes those cravings are real. When our bodies call for protein or hydration, our minds cooperate with our bodies to search out what we really need to eat or drink. But we all know that many times our cravings are simply the result of a favorite food that has come to mind—perhaps through an advertisement, a smell or a good memory.

Of course, we all know the major problem here. Most of the time those false cravings make us reach for all the wrong foods. I confess, I’ve never outgrown my taste for chocolate. Mocha lattes, chocolate chip cookies, dark chocolate candy, birthday cake with chocolate frosting—these are things that bring me great pleasure. Of course, too much of any one of those treats will leave me feeling awful rather than feeling satisfied.

There is nothing wrong with wonderful, delicious desserts. But there is a downward spiral with excess in pleasure food. The more of it we eat, the more our bodies adjust to it so that it begins to feel like it is real food. Then, when we’re hungry, we don’t feel hunger for healthy food. We crave the sugar hit and the junk food.

That is why, through the prophet, God said…

“Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.” (55:2)

Of course, this is not a passage about calories. Those words address the nourishment of our souls—the nourishment of life. And God wants us to crave the right things.

“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” (55:2)

Good questions. Why do we go for emotional junk food when there is a spiritual feast available to us? I’m convinced that if we continually ingest spiritual, emotional and intellectual junk, it will begin to feel like the real thing. Then we will continually crave all the wrong things.

Pray: “Lord, you have invited me to your table. It is a place where my soul can be filled, nurtured and satisfied. But it is so easy for me to order off the wrong menu—to fill my mind and life with spiritually empty calories. I don’t want the junk of this culture to be my food. I want to ‘delight in the richest of fare’ that is your presence in my life. Place in me this day the desires you have for me.”

 

Tuesday, October 1

Read: Psalm 63:1-8

Consider: Yesterday we saw Isaiah use the image of physical nutrition and fulfillment to speak about what God wants to do in the entirety of our lives. The psalmist also takes up that theme. David wrote…

“I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” (63:5)

And, like Isaiah, he relates the satisfaction of our souls to the legitimate cravings—the real, life-sustaining longings—of our lives.

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land…” (63:1)

Food always tastes best when we’re hungry. I’m not talking about those times when we eat simply because it’s lunch time, whether we’re really hungry or not. I’m talking about those times when our bodies call out for nourishment—when our stomachs are empty and we’re anticipating real food, not the junk that we so often put in our bodies when we’re on the run. I’m talking about the hunger we feel when we’re about to eat something substantial and delicious that fills a real need. That empty feeling in our bodies is a wonderful gift from God.

And how much more wonderful is the gift of spiritual hunger! We were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) for fellowship with him. And just as we don’t eat one meal in a lifetime, we need the filling of our lives with God’s Spirit every day.

But again, it’s not just the filling that is a gift from God. The hunger is a gift as well.

It’s important for us to understand that and live accordingly. I don’t conjure spiritual hunger in my life. I don’t manufacture it or try to work myself into some emotional state of spiritual hunger. I ask for it. I ask God to give me the right desires and then to give me the desires of my heart.

Pray: “Lord, give me the heart described by the psalmist. Help me to ‘thirst for you.’ Give me a heart that ‘longs for you.’ Then it will be natural for me to earnestly ‘seek you’ (65:1) and ‘I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods’ (63:5). And please show me how to position my life so that I can receive both the hunger and the fulfillment of that hunger.”

 

Wednesday, October 2

Read: Matthew 5:6

Consider: What makes us hungry for God? What causes us to “hunger and thirst for righteousness”? Is it something that just happens, or is it something that we develop? Is it something we seek after, or do we just wait for it to come upon us?

Spiritual writer Richard Rohr believes there are two things that take us to a deep level in our relationship with Christ—great suffering and great love.

We’ve all seen—in the lives of others and in our own lives—how pain can bring us closer to God. That is one of the reasons that Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn” (5:4). Great suffering brings the potential for spiritual depth like we have never known before. The comfort that Jesus promised to those who mourn is his presence.

Of course, that concept alone—that suffering draws us closer to God—won’t give us perfect peace. We want a deep, vital relationship with Christ, but we’re certainly not hoping for more pain.

So, I’m glad to continually discover that great love also takes us deeper. Love is something that can be developed. Of course, love is always a gift from God. But we can exercise love, practice love, determine to love whether we benefit from it or not. We can love the unlovely. We can love by sacrificing. Love is a gift, but it is also intentional action on our part. We partner with God to learn how to love.

And the more you love, the more you love. The more you allow God to love through you, the more you want to be an agent of his love. And you find that, since God is love, your hunger for love is hunger for God.

Pray: “Lord, my prayer is that I may walk closer to you. May joy and pain, hope and fear, mountains and valleys, be places where I find you because I have sought you there. Teach me to love, to find you in love, and to yearn to know you and your love at an ever deeper level.”

 

Thursday, October 3

Read: Psalm 42:1-5

Consider: There are so many layers to this great psalm. So many insights to meditate. But there are two images that are particularly powerful to me in this prayer. The first is desire.

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (42:1-2)

Yesterday we looked at two experiences that deepen our longing for God—great suffering and great love. Both are seen here…

“My tears have been my food day and night…” (42:3)

“These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God…with shouts of joy and praise…” (42:4)

This is life. “Joy and sorrow are this ocean” is the way the late Rich Mullins said it. So, we navigate this ocean with God.

When we suffer, we choose to suffer with God. When we watch a child blow out her birthday candles, we choose to experience that moment with God. When we mow the lawn, we choose to work and sweat with God. When we crawl out of bed in the morning and when we lay our heads on the pillow at night, we choose to see God at our side. And when we reach out and touch another person, we choose to do it with the hand of Christ—the hand of God.

As we learn to alertly and intentionally live in the presence of God, we experience a growing hunger to never spend one moment without him. The more we know him, the more we want to know him. The more he satisfies us, the hungrier we get.

I often share these words from A. W. Tozer, because no one has said it better…

“To have found God and still to pursue him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too easily satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.”

Pray: “Lord, make me a child of the burning heart.”

 

Friday, October 4

Read: Psalm 42:1-8

Consider: There are two powerful images that stand out in our forty-second psalm. The first one, which we looked at yesterday, is the strength of longing, seen in the soul that “pants” for God (42:1).

And as I continue reading that psalm, I’m always inspired by these words…

“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” (42:7)

I’m not sure any of us could adequately describe the meaning of “Deep calls to deep.” Yet, we know it to be true. We know that deep within us is a longing for God. God calls for us and we call for God. When we get past the superficialities of life, this becomes increasingly clear.

Even people who don’t read the Jewish and Christian scriptures, those who may not have developed a vocabulary to think and talk about God, know that they cannot function in life without love. Almost everyone agrees that a basic human need is to love and be loved.

Our faith teaches us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). So, our longing for love is a longing for God. Deeps calls to deep.

The biggest challenge that we face in giving and receiving love, is realizing that love—that is, God—is already with us — “all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (42:7). How do we miss the waves of God’s love? I don’t know. But we do.

But when we see past the distractions of life, when we quiet our lives long enough to listen, we will recognize that deep calling. We will know that we are loved and that we love. And we will long for more.

In that longing, we’ll discover something amazing. We don’t need more of God’s love. His love for us is already infinite. We simply need to learn to live in that love.

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)

Pray: Take some time to meditate on “what great love the Father has lavished on us” (1 John 3:1). Consider how his “waves and breakers” have swept over you (Psalm 42:7). And try to discern his voice in your life—as “deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7). Express your gratitude to God today by your words, by your actions, and with your whole life.

 

Saturday, October 5

Read: Matthew 5:1-6

Consider: This week we’ve looked at the hunger that Jesus spoke of in the fourth beatitude—the fourth blessing. There is something in that one sentence that we dare not miss. If we do, we’ll miss the beauty of the Kingdom that he goes on to proclaim throughout the Sermon on the Mount and throughout all his teaching. We must ask what Jesus meant by “righteousness.”

There are two words that are very distinct in our language—righteousness and justice. We typically think of righteousness as a very personal thing. A righteous person is a good person, a humble person, an honest person—a person in whom we see the results of God’s presence. We usually think of justice as something broader. We think of justice as it functions in a community or among the nations.

But in the original language of the New Testament, those are not two distinct words. It is one word—dikaiosuné. Jesus was saying, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice…”

In the Bible—in Jesus’ words—justice refers to caring for the most vulnerable among us. Justice means making sure that everyone who is made in God’s image has food, shelter, safety, dignity, equality and love. Biblical justice means seeing every person as one who has ultimate value.

To be righteous is not simply a matter of one’s internal disposition towards God. To be righteous is to seek justice for the oppressed.

The Old Testament prophets spoke of this kind of righteousness as being central to what it means to walk with God. The prophet Micah asked, “What does the Lord require of you?” His answer was…

“To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

So, when Jesus blessed those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, he was including more than their own personal righteousness. He wants us to be hungry for the poor to be fed. He wants us to be thirsty for the oppressed to be set free. He wants us to yearn for God’s best for everyone, not just for ourselves.

That kind of righteousness brings about a new intimacy with God. When we begin to see Jesus in the suffering people around us, we get to know him better than we ever had before.

Pray: “Lord, make me hungry for you and hungry for your will to be done in our world. Teach me to walk in a manner that allows you to use me to bring righteousness and justice to our world.”