“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied” (Luke 6:20 ESV).
Esau would have been perplexed by Jesus’ approval of hunger (see Genesis 25:29-34). His raging appetite caused him to sell his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for a mere pittance. A later inspired writer labeled him “unholy” (Hebrews 12:10) for his lack of discipline and judgment. Granted, Esau’s hunger probably exceeded our normal mealtime appetites, but it is highly unlikely that he was actually near death from starvation as he claimed. After all, his mother Rebekah could not have been far away and, though Esau was not her favorite son, she certainly would have fed him.
Eradicating hunger is a major enterprise in today’s benevolent societies. That is praiseworthy in a world filled with poverty and starvation. Millions suffer from scarcity of staple foods. Others are oppressed or neglected even though the means to feed them exists. Jesus taught his followers to feed those who are hungry, even when that includes our enemies (Romans 12:20).
This necessary effort however must not cause us to overlook the positive contributions of normal appetite. Jesus’ blessing upon the hungry acknowledges the motivation which their hunger provides. Most of us have had experience with persons who have lost their appetite because of illness or age. They no longer eat enough to sustain good health because they just don’t want food. In many cases, eating is nauseating or otherwise unpleasant to them. In such cases death may come even though the underlying illness could have been cured.
In the gospel of Matthew a different version of this same blessing is preserved. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). Appetite is good, especially when it is the appetite or desire for fellowship with God. Jesus modeled this desire in his own life; the particular food he most desired was “to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).
During the current pandemic hundreds of millions are suffering from hunger who ordinarily would have been able to provide for themselves. Their need to be helped is apparent, understandable, and demanding. However, the lack of spiritual nutrition (“righteousness”) may be even greater but less apparent. Our world is struggling on many fronts, and the distance we have erected from our Creator is the greatest and most urgent of them all.
King Solomon prefaced his collection of wise sayings (known as the book of Proverbs) with this appeal: “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:5-7). Appetite (also known as ambition) leads us to improvement, if it is directed appropriately.
As Christians we are directed to feed the hungry. We are also commanded to seek out those who long for a right relationship with God and assist them in their search (Matthew 28:18-20). But first we must examine our own appetites and ensure that we desire what is best and most needed for ourselves.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).