The Dictionary defines ‘hangry’—a conjoining of hungry and angry—as being “bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger.” While the first known use of the word hangry goes way back to 1918, the word has exploded into common usage in just the past year or so. Still, I want to make a case that we can trace a spiritual version of hangry all the way back to Jesus and the Beatitudes of Bethlehem.
The fourth pronouncement, or ‘Beatitude’, regarding the upside-down kingdom of Jesus is: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt 5:6). Many sermons on this beatitude have focused on all the wrong things we hunger and thirst after, and invite us to stir up a more righteous appetite for the things of God. I heartily agree, but want to ponder the metaphor of hunger itself more deeply.
In keeping with the first three kinds of “blessed ones”—the poor, meek and mourners—those with an insatiable hunger for a more righteous world are not always the most pleasant people. In fact, they can be some of the most miserable and irritable people on the planet. They live with a deep sense of right and wrong, are hypersensitive to unjust laws and practices, and have a very low tolerance for hypocrisy, deceit and political games among those in power while the powerless go unheard.
Their gift is also their curse. Their virtue is the flip side of their vice. They are often ONEs and EIGHTs on the Enneagram. Their gift to the world is their deep yearning to see wrongs put right, yet this same longing gives way to a deep seated frustration with everything that’s wrong in the world and other people. Their virtue shines when they channel their angst into world-changing efforts at reform. This virtue slips into vice, however, when they become the perpetual wet-blankets and Eeyores only pointing flaws, and rarely seeing the beauty and goodness of this world. They want to fix everything and everyone—and this is a heavy burden to carry, and to force on others.
They suffer a great deal—much of it quiet and in secret. They are hangry for righteousness, and as we all know, hangry people are rarely pleasant company. Still, Jesus would insist that Blessed and beloved of God are the spiritually hangry and irritable whom we wish would just lighten up and chill out for once. Blessed are those who we want to send away on a long vacation to help them take a break from trying to save the world all the time. Go lie down on a beach somewhere and try reading some fiction and sipping an umbrella drink for a change!
In this fourth beatitude, Jesus is giving a sympathetic nod to all those who are so hungry for a more just world that they become angry at all that stands in the way. Jesus is saying, Blessed are all the irritable and bad-tempered perfectionists and battle-weary social activists who are ready to punch a hole through the wall, throw a brick at the television watching the evening news, or just slowly flame out in utter exhaustion. He says, “Hang in there, for someday that bottomless pit in your stomach that growls in agreement with the notion that “justice delayed is justice denied”—someday, oh starving ones, that hunger will be satisfied and that thirst will be finally quenched.
By the way, notice that I am using the words righteousness and justice interchangeably, as its the same word in the original language. We tend to equate hungering for righteousness with a yearning for personal holiness or pursuing a life of religious devotion. While this is part of it, Jesus’ first audience would have connected this beatitude with the Jews’ collective longing for God to intervene in history to bring justice to the oppressed and restore Israel’s political fortunes and set up His kingdom “wherein righteousness dwells” (cf. 2 Peter 3:13). Jesus’ first sermon in Nazareth should be proof enough that the kingdom Jesus’ announced was about socio-economic reversal, and not just a call to personal holiness or religious devotion:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Now let’s meet the person in the nativity story who embodies this deep and abiding hunger for God’s righteousness to prevail: Simeon.
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:25-32).
Old Man Simeon was himself “righteous” but also lived with a constant gnawing hunger to see God act at last for the comfort or consolation of Israel. No doubt many of his fellow countrymen had all but given up on God ever setting the table for that grand messianic banquet. Not Simeon. He never lost his appetite for the long awaited feast of righteousness. His prayer bordering on obsession was that as long as he had breath, his mouth would never stop watering for the arrival of the Messiah. Simeon had just one item left on his “bucket list and it wasn’t skydiving! Rather, it was that would not “taste death” before his lips kissed the bringer of God’s righteous reign.
While we don’t see signs of anger in Simeon’s demeanor here, I can imagine many days when his patience wore thin, and he felt fed up and frustrated waiting God to act. Simeon, no doubt, was a bit hangry for righteousness.
Simeon is one of the lucky ones whose hunger and thirst was satisfied in this life. As he held the Christ child in his arms, 10,000 hungry nights gave way to the satisfying feast of a promise fulfilled! We can imagine a damn of pent up thirst bursting into a flood of tears as Simeon looked into the holy infant’s eyes, and prayed to God, “You may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation.”
The hungry and hangry for righteousness often feel like they’re living their life locked inside an Old Country Buffet. They can smell the food being prepared and feel their bellies rumble; but the food never makes it to the buffet line. For hungry old Simeon, Jesus was the sign that the kitchen doors were being thrown open and the messianic feast would begin at last!
Sadly, most will only have our deepest yearnings met in the next life. Most of the hangry-for-justice-people will only be filled with the full flowering of God’s Kingdom on earth, on that glorious day when at last “justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
In the meantime, I hope it is obvious how desperately we need these “justice cravers” at the heart of God’s kingdom work. We need these blessed ones rousing the rest of us from our spiritual and social activist slumber. We all know what it’s like to wake up on a Saturday morning to the sound and smell of bacon sizzling in the kitchen. Our feet hit the floor more quickly those mornings. Our waking up is the result of a hungry chef stirring up an appetite for breakfast.
The fourth Beatitude of Bethlehem announces that God’s favor rests upon those who wake up each morning with the smell of a more just society wafting through the air, and whose heart’s growl from an inconsolable hunger for God’s Kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven.” They carry with them secret recipes and samples on a toothpick of the delicious promises God will serve up when His Kingdom comes in full.
Until then, let’s cherish these hangry ones and cut them some slack. It’s hard to be content living with perpetual hunger while already smelling the aroma of Heaven. Such folks don’t merely pray, “Thy kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven”; they feel it as an empty pit in their stomach and a constant growl from their gut.
Blessed are the fed up and frustrated with the world’s injustice. Blessed are the hangry for righteousness, for they will someday be filled. Until that day, may they fill the rest of us with a deeper yearning for God’s Kingdom!