LET THE HUNGRY REJOICE
Matthew 5:6; Luke 6:21a, 23a, 25a NET
We have been looking at The message that Jesus gave as recorded in Matthew 5 and Luke 6. He is teaching his twelve appointed apostles, with a large crowd looking on. We have seen that the blessing that Jesus pronounces (the beatitudes) are descriptions of his followers. The woes that he pronounces are warnings to those who have decided not to follow him. The main point of all the teachings in this first section of the sermon is that the followers should rejoice because all their current sufferings will be repaid with glory and joy later.
In today’s texts, we are dealing with what looks like a contradiction — a difference between what Jesus says in Matthew 5 and what he says in Luke 6.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus appears to be talking about spiritual hunger
Matthew 5:6 NET
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”
Allen says that Jesus is talking about “those who spend their lives in endeavours to fulfill the requirements of the law and to obtain the ‘righteousness’ which God demands” (Allen, 41).
Bland says that these two words are “often used metaphorically to signify an ardent pursuit of any thing; to be as sensible of the want of it, as fervently desirous to have it, and industrious to obtain it, as restless and incessant till we do enjoy it, as men usually are when they are pinched with hunger and thirst” (Bland, 110).
This makes sense if we remember the context in which we are given this sermon by Jesus. He is preaching directly to his apostles who have committed their lives to learn from him. They want God’s righteousness, and they see in Jesus not only an example of that righteousness but also a means of transmitting it. They have committed to following him wherever he goes and doing whatever he says. They are not doing this blindly. They expect to be changed.
These apostles are ardently pursuing the righteousness that Jesus has to offer. They want to be righteous. They fervently desire to have what Jesus can give them. They are industrious to obtain it. They are restless and incessant to enjoy it. They are pinched with hunger and thirst for it.
So, Jesus’ words to them, assuring them that they will be satisfied seem to assure them that their pursuit will not be in vain — that they will find the righteousness that has so far alluded them.
But in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus appears to be talking about the apostles being deprived of actual food.
21a “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
25a “Woe to you who are well satisfied with food now, for you will be hungry.
Godet says that the word hunger denotes “those whom poverty condemns to a life of toil and privation” (Godet, 312).
Indermark says “In Matthew, the blessings are for the “poor in spirit” and those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (5:3, 6). In Luke, it is simply the poor and the hungry who are blessed (6:20-21). Luke’s beatitudes reflect Jesus’ marked association in this Gospel with the marginalized in life” (Indermark, 35).
So, is Jesus blessing the spiritually hungry here or just the hungry?
People take different approaches to reconciling these texts
Some say that these are two separate sermons. The sermon on the Mount in Matthew is where Jesus blesses those who are hungry for righteousness, but in the sermon on the plain Jesus is just drawing attention to the apostles being poor and hungry in comparison to the religious elite.
That might be, but I think Jesus is blessing his apostles here for more than the fact that they are not as well-fed as others. Maybe he is using their low status as a metaphor for something. His promise that they will be satisfied is more than a promise that their stomachs will be full. His warning to the well-satisfied is more than a threat to take away their food.
Perhaps Moses can help us to see what is being taught by Jesus here.
Deuteronomy 8:1-3 NET
1 You must keep carefully all these commandments I am giving you today so that you may live, increase in number, and go in and occupy the land that the LORD promised to your ancestors. 2 Remember the whole way by which he has brought you these forty years through the desert so that he might, by humbling you, test you to see if you have it within you to keep his commandments or not. 3 So he humbled you by making you hungry and then feeding you with unfamiliar manna. He did this to teach you that humankind cannot live by bread alone, but also by everything that comes from the LORD’s mouth.
Moses reflects on what God did for his people. He put them in a situation where they lacked the normal means of taking care of their basic needs. They had been slaves in Egypt, but at least they knew how to provide for their families there. But in the open country, away from where they had come from, and not yet in the promised land (with its bounty — a land flowing with milk and honey) — they were in drastic need.
Moses said that God humbled them by making them hungry and then provided the unfamiliar manna for them to eat. The LORD put them in a situation where they had to acknowledge their total dependence upon him.
Now, compare this situation with that of the apostles in the Gospels. Like the Israelites in Egypt, the apostles were put in a situation where they needed to trust God for their deliverance. They committed themselves to follow the Lord. That commitment required that they relinquish their means of providing the necessities for themselves. The four fishermen had to abandon their boat. Matthew had to leave his booth.
Their commitment to Jesus made them poor. They risked hunger and thirst because they hungered and thirsted for righteousness. They had a destination that they were seeking that required this sacrifice. It was called the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven. It was their goal, and Jesus was the way to reach that goal.
Along the way, Jesus provided for their needs — often miraculously. He gave them bread that they did not bake, and fish that they did not catch. He gave them the unfamiliar manna.
Now, Moses said that God humbled the Israelites by making them hungry, and then provided the unfamiliar manna for them to eat. The LORD put the Israelites in a situation where they had to acknowledge their total dependence upon him. That is what Jesus did for his apostles as well.
But Moses said something else about this as well. He said that God did this to teach the Israelites that humankind cannot live by bread alone, but also by everything that comes from the LORD’s mouth.
Here is where the message of Matthew 5 and the message of Luke 6 connect. If we are truly interested in God’s righteousness — if we truly hunger and thirst for it — we may go through times in our lives when we would rather go hungry than miss a meal at God’s table.
Jesus demonstrated this attitude himself. The Holy Spirit had led him to the wilderness where he was hungry and thirsty. The devil came, looking for an opportunity to tempt him.
Matthew 4:2-4 NET
“After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’’”
If Jesus was simply interested in not going hungry, he could have stayed out of the wilderness. But he was hungering and thirsting for a relationship with his heavenly Father. He wanted to hear God’s words more than he wanted breakfast or lunch.
In the same way, if Matthew wanted to stay well-fed, he would have never left his tax collector’s booth. In Peter and Andrew, James and John wanted to avoid hunger, they could have stayed working on the boat. But they submitted to the Spirit, who humbled them by making them hungry and then fed them with the unfamiliar manna.
The apostle Paul made a list one time of all the difficult things he faced because of his commitment to follow and preach Christ. Hunger was on that list (2 Corinthians 6:5).
In the book of Revelation, John is told to write to the church in Pergamum “The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give him some of the hidden manna” (Revelation 2:17).
This church was facing false teachings. Jesus told them to repent. He commanded them to conquer that false truth with God’s true truth. They were hungry but didn’t know it. They were being fed the wrong thing. Jesus commanded them to reject the wrong food, and hunger and thirst after his righteousness instead.
Jesus’ words to his apostles and all of us following him in the wilderness today are:
23a Rejoice in that day and jump for joy…
If your stomach is grumbling a little today (either physically or spiritually) because you want God’s righteousness, Jesus’ command for you today is REJOICE.
Why? The banquet is coming. The steak is on the grill. The pizza delivery person is on the way. Our Lord assures us that we will be satisfied. He is on his way, and his reward is with him to give to all who long for His appearance.
Allen, Willoughby Charles. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1907.
Bland, Miles. Annotations on the Gospel of St. Matthew. 1828.
Indermark, John. Luke. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011.