Do you really hunger and thirst for righteousness?
Sometimes, perhaps most times, I am not sure. That’s where the Beatitudes hit me this week.
Full disclosure. I have rather preferred Luke’s version to Matthew’s. After all, Luke tells it how it is — no sentimentalizing. No euphemisms. No circumlocution. Just blessed are those who hunger. Period.
But the last few months have changed my mind about Matthew. Some of you might know that if I am honest, Matthew is my least favorite Gospel. It’s true. I admit it. We all have a canon within a canon, but rarely do we admit it. I doubt were any of us stuck on a desert island and had to pick one biblical book to read on that sandy beach that we would choose Obadiah. Or Jude. In fact, I frequently forget that these books are two of the 66 until the lectionary reminds me.
This is all okay. Normal, I think. It’s when we insist that the biblical books are equal in our faith, in our picture of God, in our interpretation of the world that our biblical interpretation goes awry. We pretend that we hold the entirety of God’s Word in equivalent measure, when in fact we pick and choose the passages that best align with our personal theological thinking.
Yes, Luke’s account of the Beatitudes has always been my preference. Yet, the events of late have drawn me closer to Matthew. Not that I have now chosen one over the other, but because Matthew has reminded me, when I most needed it, of my own inaction in or complacency about God’s kingdom. Matthew speaks to me this week and speaks to me in ways that bring me up short. Thank God God’s Word does this sometimes. That’s one reason why I marched today in my home state of MN (#womensmarch). “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” (Elie Wiesel, 1986 Nobel Lecture).
Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or do I look the other way?
Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or do I assume someone else will?
Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or do I explain away my perceived indifference because I don’t want people to think I take sides, because I choose to play it safe?
Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or keep silent so as not to offend, not to disappoint, in fear of not meeting expectations?
Dear Working Preachers, we need to hunger and thirst for righteousness because our world actively works against it, overrides it, sidelines it, monetizes it, limits it, and assumes that it’s overrated and overstated. We have to hunger and thirst for righteousness because even our churches sweep too much under the proverbial rug, making excuses for its inaction so as to protect the powerful at the expense of those victimized. We are called to hunger and thirst for righteousness because even our internal systems that have been put in place presumably to pursue righteousness — our judicatories, our seminaries, our synods — seem only to seek to save themselves when they should be in the business of trusting in God’s salvation. “The church should not be in the business of politics,” we say. As if the Gospel wasn’t political.
The Gospel is a word of protest. In this time and in this place, we cannot forget this. Jesus was a person who stood up and said no. If you need additional words to language what this all means, Psalm 15 is your resource.
The Beatitudes are not just blessings but a call to action.
And in the season of Epiphany, the Beatitudes are a call to action to point out just who Jesus really is. Perhaps not the Jesus you want. Perhaps the Jesus who likely rubs you the wrong way. Perhaps the Jesus that tells you the truth about yourself. The Jesus who reminds you, at the most inconvenient times and places, what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about.
The Beatitudes are a call to action to be church, a call to action to make Jesus present and visible and manifest when the world tries desperately to silence those who speak the truth. “There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days, the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society… If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning…” (Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”).
The Beatitudes are a call to action for the sake of creating the world God imagines. And these days, we need this reminder — when our imagination may be limited. When our hope for the future might have been dimmed. When we think what we do and what we say and what we believe does not matter.
Our hunger and thirst for righteousness matters. It really does.