Matthew 5:6 NASB
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Hunger and Thirst
If you accept the truth of this the attitude you are
admitting something most interesting. You do not hunger and thirst after
anything you already have. To say that this beatitude is true is to say that
you do not have righteousness — but also to say that you will. The Christian
understands this fairly clearly; it is clear statement that all of us are
sinners. The final cure for this condition will not happen until our Lord
returns. This, by the way, is one of several instances in which the beatitude
cannot be fully and completely fulfilled until the return of Christ.
Miss Hornbuckle instructed me that words have meaning. In
particular, the selection of verbs in your sentences can be highly indicative
of hidden meaning. Notice that Jesus did not use the word "want." He
used the phrase, "hunger and thirst." It is a stroke of genius in the
language. It tells you that it is not sufficient to want righteousness; you
have to be passionate about it. It has to be something that consumes your
desires — and most important of all, drives out evil desire. Lawrence of Arabia
once made the point that most Westerners don't know what hunger and thirst
really are. As he had spent several days on a camel with neither food nor
water, we may take his point as being one of experience. It's that kind of
hunger and thirst that Jesus is talking about.
Why do we need to be so passionate about this? Because only
when you hunger and thirst after righteousness do you drive out the opposite
sin: covetousness. People who "want" can want many different things,
such as the latest fashion, the fastest car, a bigger house and more money. It
is precisely because the desire of these things cannot completely consume human
desire that we can want so many at the same time. We can want any number of
trivial things simultaneously; hunger and thirst limits the field quite a bit.
So how does one achieve righteousness? Remember that to the
Jew of this time righteousness would be a legal status. You would achieve such
status in one of two ways:
First, you can achieve this by making the appropriate sacrifices
at the Temple. This is not irrelevant to the Christian; the sacrifice of Christ
on the cross replaced those sacrifices — so in a sense we still use the same
Second, you achieve this by acting righteously. The Jew of this
time understood that when you called someone a "good and righteous
man" you were not saying that he had never send in his entire life. You
were simply commenting on his lifestyle. There are lifestyles of the rich and
famous; there is a lifestyle of the righteous too.
The first I leave to the Christian as being obvious. The
real problem in our lives is the second method; we want to know how we can
achieve a righteous lifestyle. The matter is one of the heart. If you want a
righteous lifestyle you must have "right desires." Note, please, that
this implies that your desires can be trained. This comes as a shock to the
"if it feels good, do it" generation, I know. But it can be done.
This has a good deal to do with your state of poverty, as well. If your desires
are such that nothing but the Cadillac and mansion will do, you can wind up
being very poor and still have a lot of money.
Christ uses an interesting word for "filled." It's
the same one that is used in the expression, "fatted calf." It means
an animal that has been stuffed with food. This carries with it the implication
that we can indeed be so filled with righteousness. If you've ever had the
experience of pushing back from the table after the third piece of Thanksgiving
pie, you have a pretty good idea of what this word means. In the same sense
that bodily desire implies the existence of something which will fill it,
spiritual desire implies the same thing. Christ is not promising us "just
enough righteousness." He is promising us a Thanksgiving feast of
righteousness. It makes sense, really. Did you expect that God would refuse to
gratify the desire of the Christian who wants to be holy? To desire to be holy
and righteous is to imitate God; he will always gratify that. Indeed, God's
gifts are always greater than our desires could possibly be. If we hunger and
thirst for it, we shall receive it — measure for measure, pressed down and
Matthew 5:7 NASB
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive
A Comparison with Compassion
The reader who does not attend the local church at which
these lessons are delivered must pardon this interruption. Our new pastor has
proclaimed three values for our church, one of which is, "Unleash
Compassion." It is easy to confound mercy and compassion, and therefore we
must spend a few moments making the distinction.
Compassion is at its roots a feeling — a "passion"
modified by the predecessor "com" whose roots are the same as those
of the word "community." It is a feeling; this accords well with the
emerging church philosophy that Christianity is primarily an emotional
experience. One of the commonplaces of emotions is that they cannot be
sustained — but they can be called forth. The mental picture used here is that
compassion is within us all the time, but only needs to be called forth or
"unleashed." Mercy, on the other hand, is an act of the will. It is
something you decide to do not because it feels good (which it usually does)
but because it is the right thing to do. If you hunger and thirst after
righteousness, you will be merciful – you can't help it.
As a particular point, compassion at our home church is
something which is applied to large groups of anonymous people. Compassion for
example includes aid to those in the Mathare Valley of Kenya, or those aided by
a local interfaith agency giving food and financial aid to the poor.
What Is Mercy?
Mercy is defined somewhat differently. There are two
elements possible in mercy:
In common with compassion, mercy may mean charity towards the
poor. It is not restricted, however, to a group endeavor. Mercy may mean giving
money or food or other aid to an individual with whom you are personally
acquainted. As defined in our local church, this does not fit under the heading
Beyond that, mercy may also mean forgiveness.
You might well ask what these two activities have in common
that makes them mercy. It is simply this: the beneficiary of mercy, in both of
these instances, is often the victim of his own fault. The poor are often poor
because of the dumb decisions they've made (or had made for them). When this is
something that you are personally acquainted with, it's not uncommon to be
angry about it. For example, if your 14-year-old daughter gets pregnant, it's
likely that you're going to be upset. In your anger, you may decide to throw
her out of the house and have nothing further to do with her. In your mercy,
you would provide for her and for the baby. Please note that her pregnancy is
not something which is a sin against you, dad. But it sure can make you mad.
Mercy, you see, has an opposing sin in both cases:
vengeance. Listen to the various political debates about the poor, for example.
How often have you heard that poverty is their own fault, they're just lazy,
and what we really need to do is to punish them for being poor so they'll go
out and get a job? That's vengeance. It's just a little easier to see when
"the poor" really means that 14-year-old.
So of course we come to the question of why vengeance is
prohibited. After all, shouldn't we set those poor people straight? Remember
what vengeance is: stealing from God. Here's how he puts it:
Romans 12:19 NASB
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS
MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord.
If you take vengeance, you take that which God explicitly
tells you belongs to him. You are to leave it to the wrath of God — which
sometimes is superseded by his mercy. And blessed are the merciful.
Forgive Us Our Debts
So mercy inclines us to forgiveness. As our Lord said, this
is a 7 x 70 process. But it's a very profitable one for us — because we
exchange human mercy, fallible as it is, for divine mercy which is perfect. The
blessing given to us here is not one of an exchange of equal value. Rather, it
is an exchange of our best effort for his complete mercy. Valued as a bargain,
this is an enormously good deal.
So why is it that so many of us have such trouble being
merciful? I suspect it is because we are rather dour about it. Listen to what
St. Paul says about it:
Romans 12:8 NASB
or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who
leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with
Why do we need mercy with cheerfulness? It's because in most
cases of mercy it's easy to see that the problem we are trying to remedy is the
other guy’s fault. We can very often say that if they hadn’t been so stupid they
wouldn't be in this mess. And we come back to that question of vengeance; what
we really want to do is to get even with him for bothering us with his needs.
Chrysostom went so far as to say that the man who gives charity (that is,
mercy) on behalf of the church should be a cheerful giver – because otherwise
he's going to be a real sourpuss really fast. (I am happy to report that the
individual responsible for this at our home church is the model of a cheerful
The Imitation of God
One thing is very certain: the attribute of mercy is a
beautiful adornment to the Christian. Nothing so exemplifies the life of God
within the Christian as the mercy the Christian shows. Virtually every religion
commands mercy; virtually everyone believes that mercy is a good thing,
especially when it is the matter of charity. It is the law of the moral world
(the universe is a moral place, what goes around comes around) that the merciful
deserve and often get mercy.
It's more than that. Let me give you an example. When asked
to comment on the subject, Robert E Lee said that he surrendered as much to the
mercy of Abraham Lincoln as to the armies of Ulysses Grant. Students of the Civil
War know that we could have sparked a guerrilla resistance. Instead he relied
on the mercy of Abraham Lincoln. Regrettably, Andrew Johnson was not Abraham
Mercy, you see, is simply a manifestation of our love for
others. If you love others, it is hard not to be merciful. And as in all these
things, if you call upon God for aid he will be pleased to provide you with the
heart of mercy. He is always pleased to help his children grow.
Pure in Heart
Matthew 5:8 NASB
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see
By its very definition, the pure heart is difficult to see.
Permit me, then, an old metaphor. If you want to see something, you need the
right instrument for your vision. If you're looking for bacteria, you need a
microscope. If you're looking at stars, a telescope is more appropriate.
Let me give you a word of warning about telescopes. In most
sporting goods stores and several other establishments you can purchase what is
advertised to be a "3 inch refractor telescope." The lens in this
telescope is indeed 3 inches in diameter. But it's a cheap lens, and suffers
from what is called chromatic aberration. I won't go into the physics, but what
it does is make the various colors form an indistinct image when those colors
passed through the edge area of the lens. So they take a ring of cardboard,
about an inch in width, and insert in front of the lens. This corrects the
chromatic aberration — but also reduces the effective size of the lens.
(Telescopes based on mirrors do not have this problem.) The telescope looks
fine, but you're not getting what is advertised.
That's the method that many of us want to use to deceive
God. We're perfectly willing to look like the right instrument, but on the
inside we are cheap and shoddy. Christ is quite clear here: the only instrument
that works for seeing God is indeed the pure heart. Sin clouds the telescope
looking at God.
So what should we be looking at? Paul puts it this way:
Ephesians 1:18-19 NASB
I pray that the eyes of your heart may
be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are
the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, (19) and what is the surpassing greatness of His
power toward us who believe. These are
in accordance with the working of the strength of His might
If you think this is not particularly useful, examine the
three things that Paul says you should be able to see:
The first is hope – without which the Christian cannot live.
The second is the riches of God's glory. If you cannot see his
glory, you are deceived about the values of the universe.
And of course there is his power; you need to see just who's in
Reaction of Purity
Sometimes you need to test: do you really have this purity
of heart? There are two men in the Bible will understand the real test of
purity quite clearly: Isaiah and Peter. In the sixth chapter of Isaiah, the
prophet Isaiah sees the Lord seated on his throne and immediately knows: he is
impure. Peter looks at his Lord after calming the sea and asks him to go away
because Peter is an unclean man. When you see the purity of God, you know your
own impurity. But there is hope; God is abundantly gracious and will deal with
the problem within you.
How do you know when he's being successful at it? How do you
know when he is making you pure? Here is the biblical test:
Psalms 18:25-26 NASB
With the kind You show Yourself kind; With the blameless You show Yourself
blameless; (26) With the pure You show
Yourself pure, And with the crooked You show Yourself astute.
When you can see the purity of God within yourself, shining
through, it is evidence that he is working his purity through you. You may find
that you become a lot less suspicious; you see the good rather than the evil at
Of course, it's easy to tell when you don't have purity.
Hypocrisy is quite easy to find and quite easy to identify — in everyone but
At the Resurrection
If you mention purity to the ancient Jew his mind would
immediately go to the ritual purification is required for a priest to enter the
Temple. If you mention this in the context of seeing God, he would think of the
high priest who could go in and see the Ark of the Covenant once a year. But
this is only a symbol of what was to come. The fact that it happened once a
year was symbolic of an eternal fact to come: once the Lord returns, he will be
with us for all of eternity. We will see God. As Job put it,
Job 19:25-27 NASB
"As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take
His stand on the earth. (26) "Even after
my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God; (27) Whom I myself shall behold, And whom my eyes
will see and not another. My heart faints within me!
Ultimately, the pure in heart will see God at the
resurrection — and we will see him face to face. As Paul said,
1 Corinthians 13:12 NASB
(12) For now we see in a mirror dimly, but
then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I
also have been fully known.
The pure in heart are those who are solid in the faith;
they're not looking for a workaround, they are trying to do it God's way. If
you are such a person, you will see the unseen things of God today – and know
him face to face when Christ returns.