What do you hunger for?

Photo by mrsiraphol. Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Photo by mrsiraphol. Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

As I write this, here in my study, the aroma of coffee and fresh-baked cinnamon rolls is in the air. My daughter and her friends are hosting a garage sale in the driveway, and her friend is an excellent baker — so it’s not just old stuffed animals that are for sale! It reminds me of when the kids were small, and we would stroll through the local shopping mall. You could smell the Cinnabon shop from half a mall away, and your feet suddenly gained a mind of their own.

In a highly commercialized society such as our own, everyone wants to sell you something, and they do so by playing on your desires: if that hamburger doesn’t make your mouth water, maybe the half-dressed young woman sinking her teeth into it will. It’s easy to take for granted the kind of economic privilege that makes this kind of advertising work. Let’s make a deal: you have both desires and disposable income. And we have what you desire. So dispose your income with us!

The previous post on Paul’s idea of godly sorrow reminds me that Jesus spoke differently of hunger. Sometimes, he spoke of it literally, to remind his disciples that God’s kingdom wasn’t for increasing the privilege of the powerful; kingdom blessings were for the hungry, not the well-fed (Luke 6:20-26).

But Jesus also spoke of hunger metaphorically. In a series of blessing statements (known collectively as the Beatitudes) that introduce the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made the following pronouncements: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt 5:4, 6, NRSV).

These cryptic statements need to be understood against the background of Old Testament prophecy and the promises made to God’s people languishing in Babylonian exile. Through their disobedience they had forfeited their land and status. But the prophets promised a coming day of restoration, of the coming of a Messiah who would put an end to their mourning.

Those who truly mourn, who humbly grieve their own sin and the brokenness of the world, will hunger and thirst for righteousness. Put differently, they will long to see God make things right, to see “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24, NRSV).

Paul’s description of godly sorrow fits that pattern. There is a kind of grief that leads to repentance, to the humble desire to see things put  right. That is a sign of what Jesus called the “kingdom of God” or the “kingdom of heaven.” But there is also worldly sorrow, a grief that reflects the values of this world, where today, our self-centered desires are king.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with enjoying a cinnamon roll (that sounds suspiciously like a bit of self-justification, no?). That’s part of the wonder of bodily existence. But the question is whether all our hungers are of this type, centered on our own pleasure. Do we delight in justice? Even if it means the kind of interpersonal justice that requires us to apologize and make amends?

For blessed are those who hunger and thirst to see things made right.