Summary: A sermon on the fourth beatitude.
Happy, Happy, Happy: Happy & Passionate
You gotta’ love grandmothers, right? My grandmother, we called her Mama Kit, lived in Chatham, LA. It just so happened that I worked in Chatham, as did my older brother. I worked for the Sheriff’s Office and my brother worked for the phone company. I would often get a call in the morning at work from her announcing that she was fixing lunch. Her announcement was “Got dinner cooking. Having fried chicken.” The earlier the call came, the longer the morning would be because it only made me hungrier longing for a piece of that good fried chicken fried in a black cast iron skillet. Yum! Yum! I could hardly wait to get that fried chicken. Pull up in the yard and literally, I could smell the chicken frying from the yard. Thinking about that all morning could make a guy real hungry.
Jesus talked about hunger and thirst on the hillside that day with his disciples gathered round. We don’t really know what it means to hunger and thirst as Jesus spoke of it that day, but his crowd did. See, we curb our hunger pangs and thirsts with candy bars and Coca-Cola or bottled water. The closest I’ve ever come to knowing anything akin to what Jesus and his hearers understood was back in 2002. I had some kind of bug and no matter what I put in my body, it refused to stay in my body (and like Forrest Gump—that’s all I got to say about that!). I became dehydrated and I longed for something, anything that would satisfy that longing. I found it in the end of an IV bad hanging from a pole at the end of the hospital bed in which I found myself.
Jesus’ hearers knew this feeling, though. Most of the people sitting around listening to Jesus lived from day-to-day. They only had meat once per week, and were likely well-acquainted with those gnawings in the belly that meant hunger. If you’ve ever been to Palestine, then you know the swirling winds of the desert can begin to blow and the parched air and sand can fill the nostrils and mouth until one longs for a drink. They knew that feeling. Jesus said to them, “So should be your desire for righteousness.” Jesus said, “You’ll be happy if you hunger and thirst after righteousness, for you shall be filled.”
Happy and hungry. Not really very appealing to us. Let’s use another word that does have a little more meaning for us—passion. Happy and passionate. We like passion. We like to be known as passionate people. Passion is a positive characteristic, well, if that passion is focused on the right things. Passion is about desire, and what Jesus is saying to his disciples is that their desire should be rightly focused. Notice I said “rightly” focused. That gives us a glimpse of what Jesus means in this beatitude.
Jesus says, as his disciples, our desire, our passion should be for righteousness. Where does this passion or desire come from? I think it comes from the first three beatitudes. See, none of these exist in a vacuum. They build upon each other and are intimately related. We see our need for God, mourn our sins and surrender our power into his control, all of which lead us to a deep hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Let’s be honest, though. Righteousness rarely gets top billing on our desire list. That’s most probably because we don’t know what it means.
We’re too often tempted to view it in the negative, as though righteousness is defined by a set of rules for things we don’t do: we don’t play cards, we don’t gamble, we don’t drink, we don’t smoke—not doing those things makes for a righteous person. Or, we might see righteousness as doing things a certain way, like the Pharisees did—wash my hands a certain way, drink out of certain cups, eat certain foods, observe certain holidays in certain ways. Righteousness can be all about doing or not doing something. It’s all about the rules. I like what Mark Twain said about these kinds of people: “Having spent considerable time with good people, I can see why Jesus liked to be with tax collectors and sinners.” There really is something about righteous people that turns us off.
Let’s break down the word, though, and see if we can get to the heart of what Jesus means. Drop the “ness,” and we’re left with righteous. We don’t care much for that word, either. We too closely associate it with “self-righteous” people, and we know no one likes them. Drop the “eous” and we’re left with right. Righteousness is the desire (the passion) to do and be right.
When we see our need before God, falling short of what we ought to be and what we want to be, what God has made us to be, our desires change. We desire to be the kind of person God wants us to be.