God blesses those who are hungry and thirsty for his justice; they will be completely satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)
People who are never starving or dying of thirst will be hard pressed to understand this verse. Those who heard Jesus speak the words, however, understood only too well. They very familiar with what Kenneth Bailey calls “unrelenting hunger and life-threatening thirst.”
Bailey says: “Each day, prompted by hunger and thirst, all people seek food and water, hoping to be satisfied. But for how long? A few hours later, the cravings return. This beatitude makes clear that the bless-ed are those whose drive for righteousness is as pervasive, all consuming and recurring as the daily yearning to satisfy hunger and thirst.”
Many religious people around the world believe righteousness “is no more than adherence to an ethical norm,” Bailey says. To that I would add that most American Christians have not been taught that “righteousness” and “justice” are the same side of the same coin.
Bailey points out that in the Bible, ‘righteousness’ often refers to God’s mighty acts of salvation. Mighty God acted on behalf of the weak and oppressed Hebrew children to rescue them from slavery. Today, God still does justice for people who cannot rescue themselves from captivity, who cannot ever be righteous in their own right. God gives us a new status — “declared righteous.” Bailey says living justly is our human response of gratitude for the verdict of righteousness God gives us as a free gift.
Bailey also notes that ‘righteousness’ in the Bible has nothing to do with “an absolute ideal ethical norm,” but instead is about relationship, and relationships make claims on our conduct: “The unspeakable gracious gift of acceptance in the presence of God requires the faithful to respond,” Bailey says. “The righteous person is the one who acts justly. Furthermore that justice/righteousness is not simply giving every man his due but includes showing mercy and compassion to the outcast, the oppressed, the weak, the orphan and the widow.”
Just as God helped us when we could not help ourselves, we are to help others in desperate need. The way God helped us experience profound life transformation becomes the model for us as we love our neighbors the way we love ourselves.
Bailey adds: “Jesus does not say, ‘Blessed are those who live righteously and maintain a righteous lifestyle.’ The statement presupposes that righteousness is something the faithful continuously strive after.”
Who among us has a passion for justice “as pervasive, all consuming and recurring as the daily yearning to satisfy hunger and thirst”?
And if we aren’t starving for God’s justice in the lives of our neighbors, should we be worried about our own relationship with the God who brought justice to our lives?
Erich Bridges writes at WorldView Conversation:
What is the meaning of life?
That’s a question only rich people have time to ponder, some folks say. The world’s poor are too busy struggling for survival to concern themselves with something as nebulous as the “meaning of life” — unless it helps put food on the table.
Not true, according to a recent study published in the academic journal Psychological Science.
The study analyzed Gallup World Poll data from more than 130 countries, including the bottom 50 in terms of gross domestic product. Citizens of poorer countries actually ranked the importance of meaning in their lives higher than residents of more prosperous nations. The study looked at multiple factors contributing to this phenomenon, but in country after country, a common element emerged: faith.
“In part, meaning in life was higher in poor nations because people in those nations were more religious,” reported the study’s authors. “The mediating role of religiosity remained significant after we controlled for potential third variables, such as education, fertility rate, and individualism. As Frankl stated in Man’s Search for Meaning, it appears that meaning can be attained even under objectively dire living conditions, and religiosity plays an important role in this search.”
They meant Viktor Frankl, the renowned psychiatrist and author, who said, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” As a survivor of Nazi death camps, he had authority to speak personally on the subject. Echoing Nietzsche, Frankl wrote, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’”
The “why” for many people who responded to the Gallup World Poll is faith.
I can hear the skeptics now: Faith is a rickety crutch the poor lean on — and an opiate the powerful use to lull the weak into accepting their lot. That might apply to certain lives or particular moments in history, but it can’t explain the power of faith in the human heart through the ages.
Even in affluent societies where secularism and materialism appear to be prevailing, people want something more, something deeper, so they look for God substitutes. “Instead of relying on religion to give life meaning, people in wealthy societies today try to create their own meaning via their identity and self-knowledge,” the study reported. Materialism and self-worship have become the “religions” of the rich, but they’re obscene counterfeits of the worship of God.
When Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness, the devil challenged Him to prove He was the Son of God by changing stones to bread. Jesus answered from the Scriptures: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God”’ (Matthew 4:4, NASB).
Humanity needs bread to sustain life. But bread isn’t enough. People crave the Bread of Life: Jesus Christ. That’s why the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ and the making of disciples among all peoples are the primary mission of God for His church in the world.
There are many ways to carry out that mission — including feeding the poor, ministering to the sick and needy and seeking justice for the oppressed. Fair-minded observers who put aside stereotypes of evangelical Christians long enough to examine evangelical activities in the world quickly discover that they are doing all of those things (see some examples here). The love of Christ compels them. Above all, however, the Great Commission command of Christ and the mission of God compel them. There is no artificial division between the Word of Christ and the love of Christ in authentic ministry.
“Every time Jesus sent out His disciples and apostles, He always told them to heal the sick and preach the Gospel,” said a missionary doctor some years ago. “It’s not that we heal so that we can preach. We’re not ‘bait.’ We heal and preach together in obedience to the commands of Jesus. It’s like a two-handled plow: You heal, you preach and you push forward — and God cuts the path so He can plant the seeds of the Gospel through His power.”
The Gospel gives ultimate meaning.