At the very beginning of the most famous sermon that he ever preached, Jesus offered what have come to be known as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). The word “beatitude” is a derivative of a Latin word which means “blessedness” or “blessing.” We call them the beatitudes because, in them, Jesus speaks of the revolutionary blessedness that is to be found in the kingdom of God.
The Beatitudes bear witness to the revolutionary condition ushered in by God’s kingdom. It is a “kingdom condition” in which God is able to accomplish amazing things in the lives of those who are poor in spirit and persecuted. It is a kingdom condition in which God moves powerfully through the work of the merciful and the peacemakers. Most of all, it is a kingdom condition that redefines what blessedness really means.
At the heart of the Beatitudes is a verse of scripture that, in many ways, ties all of the beatitudes together. That verse is this: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” What is righteousness? It is, quite simply, right living—living in alignment with the desires and purposes of God. Literally, the word “righteousness” in Greek refers to the state of being as we ought to be or, more specifically, the state of being as God created us to be. Therefore, when Jesus says that people are blessed when they hunger and thirst for righteousness, he is telling us that they are blessed when their most passionate desire in life is to live rightly, manifesting integrity and Christlikeness in their living, so that their lives become everything that they were created to be and everything that God wants them to be.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for this kind of righteousness, Jesus says, for they will indeed be filled.
What I appreciate most about those words is the way in which they provide for us a helpful vocabulary with which to speak about the saints of our faith. In some segments of the church, sainthood is a title reserved for a very few people who have garnered enough votes based upon their extraordinary accomplishments. In other segments of the church, however, including United Methodism, sainthood is something broader and more comprehensive than that. Worth noting is that, in his letters, when the Apostle Paul refers to the saints of a particular church, he is not making reference to a group of people who have been canonized or voted in. Rather, he is making reference to all of those who have given their lives to Jesus Christ and who are endeavoring to further his kingdom.
Biblically speaking, then, the saints are not perfect or sinless people. They are not even people who have accomplished something tremendous. Rather, the saints, to borrow Jesus’ vocabulary from the Beatitudes, are all those people who consistently hunger and thirst for righteousness for the sake of Jesus Christ and his kingdom. The saints, in other words, are disciples who do not simply flirt with right living. They hunger for it with their soul, they thirst for it with their spirit, as though living in alignment with the purposes and desires of God were the governing passion of their lives.
As we celebrate All Saints Day this year, who are the saints that you are remembering? What faces are appearing in your thoughts? Who are the people who have shown you throughout your life what it looks like to hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God? I encourage you to remember them well.
Thanks be to God for the saints of our faith who have hungered and thirsted for righteousness, many of whom now rest from their labor in a realm where their hunger has been completely satisfied.