No doubt most of those in Jesus’ presence–poor, downtrodden Galilean Jews under Roman oppression–would have been hungry, would have been thirsty.
Composed in Greek, the author of the Gospel according to Matthew employs the terms peinao (hunger) and dipsao (thirst) together as they were often paired in classical Greek and Hebrew literature where “the range of meaning…is not limited to physical hunger or thirst, but extends to the intellectual and spiritual life. They express a passionate longing for something without which one cannot live” (Verbrugge 448). The Hebrew term for thirst, tsama, underscores this notion, as, in addition to the meaning of “thirst,” tsama meant parched ground, or arid. Thus this thirst of which Jesus speaks is a matter of life and death.
But there is more to the first half of the beatitude of course. For, as Jesus continues, the blessed who hunger and thirst hunger and thirst for righteousness (Greek dikaoisune). Dikaoisune, or righteousness, then, is something one cannot live without–it is integral to one’s spiritual life. It is a matter of life and death.
But what is righteousness?
The Greek term means, in addition to righteousness, “‘justice, the state of being justified'” (Forest 62), but, if one places oneself as a member of Jesus’ audience, one would recall what the Hebrew scriptures say (some of which may be very difficult for an individual living in the 21st century).
For example, from Proverbs we learn the righteous:
2) Neither depend on nor covet possessions (11: 28)
3) Act justly to both humans and animals (12: 10)
4) Share willingly (21: 26)
5) Act bravely in the face of danger (28: 1)
And what of these desires?
Jesus promises those who hunger and thirst for such will be satisfied. The Greek term is chortazó, meaning not only to satisfy, but feed, to
fill, to fatten. In other words, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will receive more than is necessary to simply satiate their desires. This is a reversal of sorts, for much as the notion of thirst means “parched ground” or “arid,” like a desert being utterly bereft of moisture, in finding satisfaction, one receives what is needed and then some.
Like livestock fattening, also called “finishing,” involves “intensified feeding of animals to obtain the greatest quantity of high-quality meat” (encyclopedia2), perhaps Jesus is saying those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are satisfied, not for their own sakes, but for the sakes of others as well, for those who have been “fattened” on righteousness–those who possess the “greatest quantity”– are then in a position to be of great benefit to others. In other words, they themselves can “feed” more, feed those too, like them, who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
And it is they, they who can help satisfy the hungers and thirsts of others in regards to righteousness–of being kind to neighbor and animal, of not coveting material possessions, of being brave, of sharing–who are blessed, who share in the divine life.
A question end: What is one thing you hunger and thirst for the most?