Matthew 5: 6 – Blessed are those who Hunger and Thirst

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The fourth beatitude in the Gospel of Matthew is greatly different from its parallel in Luke 6: 21. The Lukan beatitude says: “Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.” In Matthew the beatitude is expanded by the addition of “thirst” to hunger and by indicating the object of their hunger and thirst, namely, “for righteousness”. The expression “hunger and thirst” is a stock phrase which is found elsewhere in the Bible (Cf. Is 32: 6; 49: 10; Jn 6: 35 etc). It is not certain whether Matthew himself expanded the original text by adding the words “and thirst”. But the second addition “for righteousness” can be attributed to the evangelist himself. Righteousness or justice is an important Matthean word and he used it seven times in his gospel (Cf. Mt 3: 15; 5: 6,10,20; 6: 1,33; 21: 32). This word is absent in Mark, and Luke has it only once (Lk 1: 75). By adding “for righteousness” the evangelist has not only softened down the physical aspect of hunger but has spiritualized the beatitude. We have already noticed the spiritualizing tendency of Matthew in Matthew 5: 3. Probably the original beatitude referred to the physical hunger (and thirst) of the poor who were victims of oppression and injustice. But in Matthew 5: 6 their hunger (and thirst) becomes an ardent desire for righteousness.

The word righteousness or justice had different meanings. Principally it is used in reference to God’s saving will and his saving interventions, and as such it expressed God’s plan or actions in fulfilment of the covenant promises. God’s righteousness then is also God’s salvation. It also means personal holiness or ethical demands in response to the Kingdom of God (Cf. Mt 5: 20; 6: 1). In Matthew 5: 6 those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are those who ardently desire and long for the realization of God’s salvation. Jesus promises a reversal of situation for the hungry and thirsty: “they shall be satisfied”. Here again the passive voice of the verb is a “theological passive” and it implies that God will satisfy them. God will satisfy their hunger in the fulfilment of the kingdom which is often spoken of as a banquet (Cf. Mt 8: 11; 22: 1-10; Lk 22: 28-30, etc).

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