If Not Perfect, Things Can Be Better
Filed under: Sermon on the Mount
Jesus used very human sensations, hunger and thirst, to make an important point about righteousness and, at the very least His remarks suggest that we’ll never achieve it if we don’t develop a taste for it.
Blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.
What that means is righteousness does not happen automatically.
“Hunger and Thirst” are naturally occurring biological indicators that need no conjuring. We don’t have to work at being hungry. Biology does that for us.
But, even though hunger develops very naturally on a biological level it doesn’t guarantee a taste for a nutritionally balanced diet. Hungry people eat anything and will often eat wrong things just because they are hungry. So Jesus was suggesting that the same intelligence and discipline we use to establish a healthy diet should be employed on a spiritual level also.
Just as sating your hunger can be done without meeting nutritional needs, cries for righteousness can easily be muffled with no regard for what is right.
The righteousness Jesus referred to was more than a personal matter or an abstract spiritual issue. It applies here, now and to everyone and there are, in fact, several observations to be considered about this pursuit:
Righteousness has two perspectives. The need for righteousness, like the need for nutrition is universal. The world is not a better place only because I am well fed or my civil liberties are honored, a self-centered perspective. There are others in this world also and they deserve good nutrition and fairness like everyone else, an others-centered perspective.
If our color, culture or class is well favored with basic rights and ample resources while others in the world are not, we should hunger to correct that. William Wilberforce hungered for 26 years to make slave-trading illegal in England. After reaching this mile stone, he continued his efforts and 26 years later slavery in England was abolished.
Maybe if people in the USA had hungered in the same way William did, they wouldn’t have needed a blood and guts brawl to get the same result.
Bottom line: Our “hunger” for righteousness should be stimulated as much by the needs of others as by the needs of self.
Righteousness, like good nutrition, can be made to wait by nourishing your mind with empty calories. A lot of what we shove in our mouths is mostly useless but even though it provides little nutrition, it does keep the hunger pangs quiet. We do this with righteous issues as well.
Women were denied the vote for many reasons none of which made good sense or even deserved a hearing. Segregation (racism) was justified by ideas that had no basis in fact but kept the status quo going for a long time.
It took irritants like Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson and Nelson Mandela to make people think properly. Otherwise, we might still be nourishing our minds with nonsense.
And it is also worth noting that you don’t have to be perfect to exercise this responsibility. All of these men had their faults but there is no doubt God used them to accomplish some very neat things and I’m sure they felt gratification from the effort and the results.
Entertaining errant ideas about what is right and wrong is like eating ice cream for dinner instead of steak and potatoes. It is not a good way to develop a taste for right thoughts and it won’t lead to a better world.
Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to challenge entrenched ideas about right and wrong. Put yourself in the shoes of others. Investigate their thoughts and ascertain their feelings. Otherwise everything you believe is nothing more than assumption.
Righteousness is always relative. This is where moralists miss the point. No person and nothing in this world, this side of heaven, will ever be perfect.
Righteousness and good nutrition are both balancing acts. We buy and eat what is affordable not what is best and, of course, at the same time lobby for laws that encourage organic agricultural practices. We are getting better but only just, it will never be perfect. Righteousness, like nutrition, is making things better when you can’t make them absolutely right.
When it comes to righteousness, however, we take on a purist (read condemning, inflexible, non-negotiable) mindset. Someone says “righteous” and we think “absolute.” Righteousness in the world is not the same as righteousness with God and Jesus’ sermon was focused very much on this life and this world. A good example is Tamar.
Tamar married the first son of Judah who died before siring children. She then married his younger brother who also died before fathering a child. She was then promised to the last son but had to wait for him to grow up. This was how they did things in those days and they took the process very seriously. When the boy was grown, however, Judah failed to give him to Tamar in marriage. She didn’t take this lying down (no pun intended).
Judah’s wife had also died and while he was out tending the sheep, Tamar posed as a prostitute, seduced Judah and became pregnant. He didn’t know it was Tamar.
When Tamar started to show, the assumption was she had been “sleeping around,” the penalty for which was execution. But, once she provided proof that Judah was the father he, the would be executioner said, “she is more righteous than I.” She was also honored by God, as her son was named in the lineage of Christ.
Bottom line: It is right to make things better even when it falls short of being perfect. This kind of righteousness is not canonized. It must be figured out and applied as we go. Tamar had no Sunday school manuals to consult in her day and what she did wouldn’t be found there anyway.
Righteousness requires your personal effort. You can’t pass a few laws and be done with it. Laws help but only a little. Righteousness takes a lot of personal attention, care and sacrifice. Righteous practices must be stated, restated, articulated, re-articulated, molded and remolded for every generation. What worked for Tamar won’t work for us although what we do in answer to injustice might be equally ugly.
The government and the laws they uphold will never be enough to make things right or better. If we don’t hunger and thirst on the grass roots level nothing will change, other than to get worse.
Bottom line: Don’t stop hungering and thirsting. Don’t stop trying to find ways to redress grievances. Don’t relax because there is a government and never stop thinking or asking relevant questions.
Righteousness is personal. There is a righteousness that is very personal and needed desperately by every person, even the obnoxiously self-sufficient.
It is attributed by God and conferred by grace. It can’t be earned so you can’t claim to deserve it. Jesus made it possible by His death on the cross and gives it willingly to any person honest enough to admit their need. It is eternal and can never be stripped. It is internal and can never be soiled. Once you have it you need never worry about it again and are free to focus on righteous issues in the world around you.
Bottom line: Take care of your personal righteousness once and forever, through Jesus, and you will have more time, energy and interest in what is right for others.
What do you THINK!AboutIt?