What Do You Hunger For?
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
Hunger. It grips you. Stomach growling in dissatisfaction, sharp pangs in the belly demanding attention. As it continues, you begin to feel lightheaded and anxious. Blood sugar and mood dip dangerously low. Reptilian brain kicks in. Go straight to the fridge. Do not pass go, do not collect £200. Reach in for the chocolate, the lump of cheese, the leftovers. Whatever is easy and quick. Swallow it down. Breathe. Your most basic survival need has been met. Blood sugar and mood begin to return to normal. All is well.
Meanwhile in Yemen, Syria and South Sudan, people are dying of starvation because war has stopped the supply of food. There is an acute shortage of food and water in Ethiopia and Kenya due to famine. In Great Britain, 1.3 million people needed an emergency food parcel last year.
I don’t think I’ve ever been seriously hungry in my life.
At the feeding of the 5000, we see that hunger for bread and righteousness are inextricably interlinked. In the story, a small boy offers his bread and fish to the hungry crowd and Jesus uses it to feed everyone. Some theologians believe the boy’s action shamed everyone else into sharing their lunch with each other. Maybe this would have been an even bigger miracle than Jesus supernaturally multiplying the food. But, however you choose to read it, as Rob Bell notes, this moment is not just about meeting physical needs, it is also a highly political action.
Whenever people are unable to feed themselves, we find underlying, systemic injustice and a failure to love our neighbours as ourselves. By feeding so many people, Jesus offers a sharp critique to the Roman Empire; to those who have food but don’t feed the hungry; to those who have resources but don’t share them; to those who have power but don’t use if for the common good. In this prophetic action of Jesus, we hear echoes of the prophet Isaiah:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
The Empire presupposes a righteousness based on outward appearances, keeping rules that just happen to be skewed in favour of the wealthy and powerful keeping their wealth and power intact. It asks us to believe there is not enough to go around, so we must fear our neighbours and exclude them to feel safe and provide for ourselves.
The Kingdom of God, though, invites us to a radical alternative: righteousness that feeds the hungry, houses the homeless, fights against injustice and oppression in all its forms. It is the yeast in the dough, bringing justice, compassion and provision to everything it touches.
Before the resurrection, Jesus has a simple meal, satisfying his hunger and thirst with his friends. Before the miracle happens, before the new life emerges, before the long-awaited restoration of all things, there is bread and wine to sustain us.
When we take communion, we re-enact this prophetic symbol, this spiritual and physical nourishment. By eating the bread and drinking the wine, we proclaim our hunger and thirst for righteousness, our desire to see God’s kingdom come. We are one body, eating from one loaf that is shared for the common good of all. Everyone is welcome at the table and there is enough for all.
Jesus’s choice of language in the Sermon on the Mount was not accidental. When we read about hungering and thirsting for righteousness, we can’t help but think about our own physical hunger and thirst. We can’t help but think about those who can’t go straight to their fridge and satisfy their hunger pangs.
Jesus said that we would always have the poor with us, and he was right. Every time we reach out in generosity, share our resources, give our time and attention to serve people who need it, we are ushering in God’s kingdom – the gracious, generous rule and reign of God where everyone is valued, provided for and loved beyond what they could ask or imagine.
If you want to help someone who’s hungry, why not make a donation to a foodbank? Find your nearest one here.