Jesus began His Sermon on the Mount with what we call the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-12. Some call them “the essence of the essence.” If you want to know and honor Jesus, you must understand and live by these.
For this devotional message, I’ve chosen the words of my 89-year-old friend Leroy Garrett on one beatitude, Matthew 5:6. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” He refers to a book by William Barclay, entitled The Plain Man Looks at the Beatitudes (c. 1963). He received a copy of this book as a gift from this much admired Glasgow University professor, Biblical scholar and author in a conversation with him in 1963. Garrett himself has his Ph.D. from Harvard, lives in Denton, Texas, with his wife who has Alzheimer’s, and cares for her daily. Their loving relationship gives Christ great honor. Don’t miss this powerful message from Leroy Garrett about a consuming passion. You can read more from him atwww.leroygarrett.org.
Barclay sees this, the fourth beatitude, as the most demanding of all, for it insists that the Christian life is not for the dilettante — the word he uses — which means to be interested in something, such as literature or music, but in a shallow and superficial way. Our Lord is not here blessing the person who is merely “interested” in a right relationship with God, but the one who has a consuming passion, as if it were a matter of life and death.
We see this passion in Paul the apostle, who did not say, “I am interested in Christ,” but rather, “For me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). For Paul it was even more than taking the claims of Christ seriously. It was a surrender of his whole being — “I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8).
We sometimes see this passion in a fiercely competitive athletic contest, as I did on April 13, 2008, in watching a young South African[Trevor Immelman] win the Master’s golf tournament. He knew that Tiger Woods, the world champion, was in pursuit and only a few strokes behind. As the pressure mounted on the final holes one of his shots went into the water instead of on the green, and another shot went into a sand trap. But, drawing on years of painful discipline and practice, he kept his cool and made the shots to win. When they at last put the green jacket on him, golf’s most coveted prize, I was touched by the drama.
There’s something of this in this beatitude. It is the one who has his “want to” fixed that wins the green jacket — or in this case “the crown of righteousness.” Unlike athletic contests, there is not just one winner. We all win the prize — so long as we hunger and thirst for it.
But Barclay sees this is as the problem with so many professed followers of Christ — we do not have the hunger and thirst that this beatitude calls for. He refers to “the malady of not wanting” as the biggest barrier to the full Christian life. He draws a crucial distinction between desire and the realization of that desire. In this beatitude Jesus is not blessing the one who has attained righteousness — this would exclude us all! — but the one who passionately desires to be righteous. One may obey all the rules and have all the marks of a righteous person and yet have a cold heart, or be what the Bible calls “lukewarm” (Revelation 3:16). There are others who stumble along in their Christian walk, often erring, who have a heart for God and who long for a spirituality that is always beyond their reach. It is such hungry and longing souls that our Lord is here blessing.