When was the last time you were hungry? I can remember times back in high school that I would essentially starve myself to make weight for wrestling matches. I'd eat eggs in the morning and evening and salads during the day. For a growing boy, that is the closest thing to real hunger I had ever felt. (I don't recommend trying it.) But even so, I was still eating. Most of us in the West don't truly grasp hunger. We generally know when our next meal will be and any sensation of need we feel is due to the fact that our stomachs are rarely empty. Of course there are those even among our communities in need of food and it is our call as individual Christians to care for those less fortunate than ourselves.
With that said, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount wasn't delivered to us. Nor was the Gospel according to Matthew written to us directly. So how would their audiences understand hunger? Well for one we know the Roman Empire had many issues with keeping up the food supply as they were heavily dependent on good harvests. A bad harvest could have spelled disaster for entire regions, leaving many thousands jobless, homeless, and hungry.
"Those who experience starvation are keenly aware of that which they do not possess yet so desperately need."
Also worthy of noting is how the Roman Empire's workforce operated. We see a glimpse of this in the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard of Matthew 20. An employer would go out and hire people for a day's work. The next day those same men would have to find work again. Perhaps with the same employer. Perhaps not. This meant that if one didn't find work for a few days they could be facing a very difficult situation for themselves and their families, especially hunger and perhaps indentured servitude.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied."
Based on the historical context above, is Jesus saying "blessed are those who haven't eaten lunch?" Or "blessed are those who eat because they have nothing else to do?" No, he is saying blessed are those who are starving. Blessed are those who long for their next meal. Blessed are those who enjoy every bit of food they get because the next meal might not come so easily.
But Jesus is obviously not talking about physical hunger. Jesus is saying "Fortunate, happy, blessed are you, O man, who starve for true righteousness!" Why is this a source of blessing or happiness? Because those who experience starvation are keenly aware of that which they do not possess yet so desperately need. But for the believer we are given the food we need to sustain us in this life and the one to come. What righteousness are we to feed on? And how will we ultimately be satisfied? To answer that, I'd like to back up a handful of verses to when Jesus is about to be tempted by Satan.
"And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry."
This verse seems like an obvious statement and it always makes me chuckle that Matthew included it. But it is important. Aside from the fact that this points to the genuine humanity of Jesus, Matthew is linking this story of Jesus' temptation to the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount.
And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, "It is written,"
‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Scripture! This is our spiritual food. This is the very source of life for the child of God. Through diligent searching of its pages we find wisdom and understanding. In daily study our knowledge of our Creator grows, filling us with unspeakable joy. We become intimate with our weapon until it is an extension of our very soul, wielded to defeat the enemy and temptation just as Jesus did.
The previous Beatitudes are all about how Jesus declares us happy due to our taking pleasure in Him and hoping in the not-yet-realities of the coming Kingdom. This one is no different. One day we will be fully satisfied by the righteousness of Christ in the presence of our God, But until then, beloved Christian, pick up your Bible and feast. Everything your starving soul needs to sustain itself in this life is contained in those perfect pages. In it we find that it is not our righteousness that saves and satisfies us, but Jesus'. This is the promise that we holdfast to.
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”'
"Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." Why? Because their hunger for righteousness will at last be satisfied. And the reality of us being granted to clothe ourselves in the pure righteous linen of Christ will be fully realized. This is our hope and it is assuredly something to be happy about.