“Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness, for They Will Be Filled”

Scripture – Micah 6:6-8

Sermon preached by Gregory Knox Jones

Sunday, October 30, 2022


“It’s not fair!” the child declared to his mother. “My sister gets to stay up until ten and I have to go to bed at eight.”

It begins early and stays with us throughout our lives. We look at our personal circumstances and conditions in the world, and we protest: “It’s not fair!”

He never smoked a day in his life, but he contracted lung cancer. He never had a chance because his father left home and his mother was a drug addict. She was born in Haiti which doomed her to a life of poverty. One thing we know for certain about life: IT IS NOT FAIR!

From the time we are young until we take our final breath, we notice inequalities. It seems that we are born with an innate sense of what is fair and what is not. Eventually this concern about fairness evolves into a focus on justice.

As we work our way through the Beatitudes, today’s focus is “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” To grasp the thrust of this beatitude, it is essential to understand the word that has been translated “righteousness.” The Greek word is dikaisosyne (dee K aw SEEN’). It can be translated “righteousness” or “justice.”

In our day, the word “righteous” has fallen out of fashion because people generally hear “self-righteous,” which describes someone we would prefer to avoid – someone who is smug, intolerant, and full of himself. In the Bible, someone who is righteous is a person who lives a virtuous life; a life in sync with the principles of God; a life that is right with God.

In Matthew 25, when Jesus separates the sheep from the goats – those who enter God’s kingdom and those who cut themselves off – Jesus refers to the sheep as the “righteous.” How did they earn that title? They fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited those who were ill or in prison.

I hope it is evident why I coupled today’s beatitude with the well-known passage from the Prophet Micah. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.” That is a beautiful description of what the Bible means by a person who is committed to striving for justice.

But what do we mean by the term “justice?” Some think in terms of punitive justice – punishing someone who has broken a rule or violated the law. If our seven-year-old tells a lie, we banish him to time out. If a student cheats on a test, she receives a zero. If someone assaults another, we hope he will spend time in prison. We believe people should pay a price for bad behavior and hope the punishment will motivate them to do better and serve as a warning to others.

In the Bible, we discover that there are passages in which justice refers to administering a deserved punishment. However, the much more common use of the word “justice” refers to treating people fairly and with dignity. Throughout the scriptures, we read that God desires justice, and it is often spelled out in terms of liberating the oppressed, defending the orphan, and pleading for the widow. When Jesus and the prophets talk about justice, they almost always focused on caring for the most vulnerable in society.

Presbyterian minister Scott Black Johnston tells about John Rawls, an American political philosopher and Harvard professor. “In 1971, Rawls wrote a book entitled, A Theory of Justice. He argued that a just society will ensure basic rights such as: 1) Political liberties: freedom of speech and thought. 2) Equality before the law: who you are and who you know should not mean that you receive special treatment in regard to the law. And, 3) Equal access to the political system: one person, one vote. (However, the question arises): What should a just society do about economic and social inequalities? Rawls created a thought experiment called ‘The Veil of Ignorance.’ It goes like this: Imagine you haven’t been born yet. You are floating above the planet, orbiting it like an astronaut. You see the world in all its beauty and all its ugliness. You see wealth and privilege, poverty and pestilence. You see racism, abuse, and addiction. You see fantastic universities, shiny cars, and fabulous clothes. You see people dining on lobster, and you see children eating dirt. Now, given that you do not know where you will be born, whether you will have flies circling around your head or a silver spoon stuck in your mouth, what changes would you make? How would you set up society? How would you make it more just?1

Rawls does not imagine utopia. He is a pragmatist and knows that if people do not have freedom to make choices, life becomes meaningless. So, if people have “freedom to make choices about their careers and interests and how hard and how long they want to work, the choices will produce inequalities…(Given that, how do we produce a just society? Rawls concludes that we must) focus our attention on lifting the bottom rung.”2

Of course, this is precisely what the Jewish prophets meant when they declared that God called for liberating the oppressed, defending the orphan, and pleading for the widow. It is what Jesus meant when he said that the righteous are those who feed the hungry, cloth the naked, welcome the stranger, and visit those who are ill or in prison.

Jim Wallis, the former editor of Sojourners Magazine, tells about a soup kitchen in Washington DC. “Every evening, Mary Glover, an elderly volunteer who knows what it is to be poor, prays for the meal before the guests arrive. Mary knows how to pray. She thanks God for the gift of another day. Then she prays, ‘Lord, we know that you’ll be coming through the line today, so help us treat you well.’”3

To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to do what you can to reshape the world according to Biblical principles. No one should go without food. Last Sunday a family of five was begging for food in the Acme parking lot. No one should go without shelter. They were living in an old van. God is passionate about the wellbeing of all and Jesus expects his followers to insure that each person has the basic necessities of life. It is really quite simple: Those who have are to share with those who lack, and systems that produce injustice must be demolished and rebuilt.

Celebrating Reformation Sunday reminds us of the courageous clergy who stood up against a corrupt church and created Protestant churches. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox, who are depicted in our stained glass window in the balcony, were bold in the face of danger because they were driven by their hunger for righteousness.

When we feed people who do not have enough to sustain themselves; when we provide housing for men who are determined to put their lives back together and turn in a positive direction; when we support Conserv Congo which is saving endangered primates and fighting to protect the second largest forest on the planet, when we provide clean drinking water for Palestinian children in Gaza, when we work to overcome anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, and Islamophobia,  we show that we hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Author and historian John Meacham tells of a moment during the Civil Rights movement when the Freedom Writers were focusing on cities in the South. When the buses neared Alabama, threats of violence escalated. The President sent emissaries to dissuade the Freedom Riders from heading into a dangerous situation and they stopped the buses.

However, 22-year-old John Lewis was undeterred. He and Diane Nash and other remarkably courageous young people drove through the night to reach the buses and renewed the ride. Meacham writes, “They weren’t thinking pragmatically or even rationally, for their thought was shaped not by the fears of the world they knew, but by the hopes of the one they were seeking.”4

That’s what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness. To feel the unfairness, to taste the injustice and to strive against whatever the odds to push our world to a place of hope and justice.



  1. Scott Black Johnston, Elusive Grace,” (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2022), p. 19-20.
  2. Ibid., p.20.
  3. Jenny McDevitt, “The Latitude and Longitude of Justice,” June 13, 2021.
  4. Tom Are, “Blessed Are Those Who Hunger for Righteousness,” March 7, 2021.