Blessed Are Those Who Hunger

Scripture: “Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

I once heard the story of a journalist.  Her goal was to put her finger on the pulse of the American people.  So she conducted hundreds of interviews all across the country – young and old, rich and poor, differing ethnic groups.  She met them in shopping malls, along the streets of cities and town, in waiting rooms, where ever people were willing to give her a half an hour or so.  She asked them three simple questions.

The first question was simply: What do you want?  Typical respondents were quizzical and uncertain at first.  But a momentum would quickly build, and they would often talk for eight or ten minutes.  As their first response ebbed, she asked her second question:

“What do you want?”

“You just asked that,” was the predictable reply.

“I know,” she would say, “but that is the second question too: What do you want?”

The responder’s resistance quickly gave way to a wave of fresh thoughts, often more poignant and intimate than the first, the people talking about a deeper layer of wanting.

When their response waned, the journalist asked the third question, which most people anticipated.

“I know, I know,” they would say, “What do you want?”

And they would start to speak, often eagerly and at greater length, usually in deeper and even more heartfelt ways.  They reported that the journalist’s persistent and repeated question could have been asked again and again, and that each asking seemed to take them toward the center of themselves.

The journalist wrote her article, with a nice summary, but what, she says, struck her most was that almost everyone she had interviewed had commented that they were rarely asked the question, “What do you want?” by anyone, even those closest to them (Story from Recovering the Sacred Center by Howard Friend).

At the heart of these questions, is the question of not just what we want right now, as a passing whim, but the question of what we deeply long and yearn for from the depths of our hearts.

My friends, what do you want?

What do you want?

What do you want?

The longings and yearnings of our souls are at the heart of today’s Scripture reading: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

The key to understanding this Scripture is understanding the meaning of righteous.

To our contemporary sensibilities, righteousness means being moral and virtuous and getting things … well … right.  So at first glance, it seemed to me that this text was saying, blessed are those who hunger and thirst to get be moral and holy and generally better than those around them.

But that sort of message is just not Jesus’ style.  Jesus does not preach a Gospel of perfection or moral superiority.  Jesus is always right there in the midst of the messiness of people’s lives and that’s one thing that I love about him.  That Jesus.  So what does Jesus mean when Jesus says, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness?

The key to understanding what “righteousness” means is going back to the Jewish tradition that Jesus was raised in.  In the Old Testament, righteousness is not about an ethical norm but about a living covenantal relationship.  One Old Testament professor explained that righteousness in the Hebrew language is akin to an “energy charged sphere of holy presence.”  In the Old Testament you can only be in the in the righteousness of God, you cannot have it or interpret it … To be ‘in the righteousness of God” means to be directly connected to this vibrational field, to be anchored in God’s own aliveness.  There is not subtle about the experience.  In words of Cynthia Bourgeault, an Epsicopal priest and mystic, it as fierce a bond as “picking up a downed electrical wire” (Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault).

What Jesus promises is that when the hunger arises within you to find your own deepest aliveness within God’s aliveness, it will be satisfied.

In fact, the hunger itself is a sign that the bound is already in place.  As we enter the path of transformation, the most valuable thing we have working in our favor is our yearning.  Some spiritual teachers even say that the yearning you feel for God is actually coming from the opposite direction, it is in fact God’s yearning for you.

We don’t need to have everything figured out.  We don’t need to have our act together.  We don’t need know everything about the Christian faith.

The bond is already in place.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteous, for they will be filled.

And older, established poet emphasized this point by counseling a young poet to leap less quickly to answers and to learn to love and embrace the questions first.  The quest for God, it seems begins with patiently and persistently listening, just listening, to the longing and yearning.

The bond is already in place.

I once heard this bond in explained in a story that drew from the life of Helen Keller.  Helen Keller is a famous American icon, known for being deaf and blind.  Trying to teach her language, her teacher Annie would sign words to her over and over again in her hand.

Initially, when Helen crouched by the water pump while Annie poured water over her hand and spelled the word for water over and over, in her blindness, Helen experienced nothing but water and the strange movement of fingers on her palm. God invites us into relationship. The love of God pours over us like water, and the meaning of love is spelled into our hand over and over again. But like Helen, we are blinded and enraged by our blindness and we cannot understand its meaning. But suddenly Helen grasped the connection between the fingers in her palm and the water pouring over her hand. Grasping this connection did not open all of the world of language and meaning and human relationship but it fired her desire for those things. Over many years her desire continued to burn.  It took her from the solitary confinement of darkness and silence to friendship, social activism and intimacy with God (Story from The Wounding and Healing of Desire by Wendy Farley).

The bond is already there.  The love of God flows over us and God continues to spell love into our hands over and over again as we begin to become aware of the infinity of love available to us.

The flow of love is already there.  Washing over us.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Today, Jesus invites us to detach from our certainties and our need to be perfect.  Instead, Jesus invites us to be led by our yearning for the Holy.  Jesus invites us to be anchored in God’s aliveness.  Jesus invites to release more and more fully into the flow of love between the Holy One and ourselves … feeling the touch of God signing love over and over again into our hands.

One scholar writes, “In whatever tiny measure we awaken to desire for the Beloved, we become aware that the infinite depths of the Beloved’s desire for us preceded us: the eternity of divine love for us walks before us, follows after us, protects us from above, nourishes us from below and burns within us” (The Wounding and Healing of Desire, Wendy Farley).

It is this loving and being loved that purifies us, removes the “rust” from our souls, and makes us new. Amen

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