Most of us who live in America have never experienced real hunger and thirst. Poverty in other parts of the world and the life-threatening hunger that results is locked inside a television screen. Perhaps we’ve traveled to the Sudan or South America and seen poverty up close, but we began the day with breakfast and anticipated two more meals before the sun dipped below the horizon.
The closest we’ve come to feeling the pangs of hunger and thirst is when fasting on the night before a visit to the doctor. “Do I really have to do without food to prepare for this medical test,” we groan. By noon the next day we’re complaining of a headache, blurred vision and the loss of energy. After the test, we rush home to the refrigerator and pantry to satisfy our hunger.
For that reason we might have difficulty feeling the intensity of this beatitude. Jesus’s first-century audience didn’t. They were among the truly poor and hungry. They immediately connected to his words.
It’s no accident that Jesus refers to hunger and thirst which are basic physical drives within every living creature. By doing so he describes the intensity and passion by which we are to go after God, who is the ultimate source of our satisfaction.
A Methodist minister named Charles Allen tells the story of a man who learned this idea from Buddha. He came to Buddha to find the true way of life. Buddha took the man to the bank of a river. The man thought Buddha was going to introduce him to some kind of purification or baptism rite.
Suddenly Buddha, who by now had led the man into the middle of the river, grabbed his head and pushed him under the water. He held him there for what seemed like minutes. Finally, the man freed himself from Buddha’s grasp and came up out of the water gasping. Buddha asked calmly, “When you thought you were drowning, what did you desire most.”
“Air! I wanted air!” the man shouted.
Buddha replied, “When you want salvation as much as you wanted air, then you will get it.”
Have you ever wanted something so badly it was a matter of life and death? In the fourth beatitude Jesus tells us the way to satisfy the deep hunger and thirst in our souls – how we can be happy, hungry and satisfied.