Happy Are the Hungry
“Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.
Oh, it chases me down, fights til I’m found.” --Cory Asbury
“Happy are the people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness,
for they will be fed until they are full.” Matthew 5:6
The Bible is full of food. There was a garden of food. Festivals with food. Sacrifices and offerings. Even guidelines for how to cook the meat. Regardless of how God likes His barbecue (I wonder if He likes A-1 Sauce?), throughout the Bible, He has always used food to connect with humans. In the Old Testament, He connected with us through the Law and rituals that went with animal sacrifices and food offerings. In the New Testament, Jesus supplanted these offerings by becoming one Himself. He became the Bread of Life. Living Water. The Sacrificial Lamb.
So it makes sense that Jesus would center many of His teachings and parables around food. One of my favorite verses in the BE Happy/Sermon on the Mount series has to do with food. Call it a Happy Meal, if you will. (And I will…) In it, Jesus links our consuming need for food and drink to our overwhelming desire for relationship. Both are just as life-sustaining. By attaching righteousness to our primal need for food and water and then promising to meet those needs, the Lord shows He is the ultimate source of life. Join me for this Happy Meal. And read further for one of my favorite dinner party parables.
To begin, I always start by asking the question: What exactly is righteousness?
Think of it as uprightness; right living with God and with others to the best of our ability. Righteousness is a gift from God. It is not something we can achieve for ourselves in our own efforts. It's also not something we can achieve for other people. (Even though as a parent, I try...really, really hard.)
Since becoming an adoptive mother two years ago I carry a burden for the way my kids act. The burden is super heavy. Like, lay awake at night. Tossing and turning. Can ́t sleep because I ́m so worried for them. I am aware of the trauma they suffered at the hands of others. I am aware of the life they used to live. Their past still affects us Every. Single. Day. They were taught many bad habits and survival techniques that kept them safe then but prevent them from thriving now. I do not want jail in their future. I don't want that life for them. I yearn for righteousness for them. Right-living. With each other. With us. With society.
Like me, if you carry a burden for others then Matthew 5:6 is for you. It’s maybe the perfect verse for parents. There is no qualification on who gets the righteousness promised. There’s no caveat saying admit one or one-time use only. There is room for others in this verse. We see an example of Matthew 5:6 lived out in the Parable of the Stay-At-Home Dad. In it, Jesus speaks directly to this burden of parenthood and the desire we all feel for our children’s righteousness.
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and squandered all his wealth in wild living. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’
I’ve always read this story from the perspective of the son. In fact, most sermons and lessons center on the prodigal son. A plea goes out to those wayward souls lost and alone who are thankfully redeemed in the end. Most of us have been this child at one point in our lives and can relate to the feeling of being saved and accepted at our very worst.
But what if you’re on the other side of this story? What if you’re this parent? And your child just came to you and said, “I mistrust you and disrespect you so much I want my inheritance now. Basically, you’re dead to me.” The dad in this story faced this moment. He could have said “No” to his child’s demeaning request and nipped that one in the bud right then. He could have gone after him and became a “helicopter parent” who hovered to keep him out of danger as he gallivanted around. Or even nagged the boy with “I told you so” the whole time wild oats were being sown. The father could have done what can come so naturally to (some) parents and guilted him into coming home. (Or as I recently learned that there is a new term for parenting: “sharenting”. It’s where you overshare on social media about your kids. This Stay-At-Home Dad in the Bible could have documented his wayward son’s journey on the 1st century version of Instagram. I’m glad he didn’t.)
No, the dad in this story did one of the hardest things for a parent to ever have to do—he stayed home. This dad let his son go--watching and waiting on the slim chance his son would return. God takes our place when we can’t be there. When we shouldn’t be there. That’s the secret the stay-at-home dad knew. He understood God would be going with his son. That’s how he could stay home. He could be satisfied with his role in the process of redemption--in the finding of the lost. When his son did return home, he ran to him. Even then, this wise man didn’t ground him or hold him at a distance. He opened his heart and home. The parent forgave the child. What I find so fascinating is that the son wanted money so bad he considered his own father dead to him. In the end, it was the son who had been considered dead and brought back to life. We see that here in verse ‘Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’
Because the father allowed his son to make his own decisions, even extremely bad ones, the son found his way back to love and life. Lest we think the son who leaves is the only one worthy of love, consider the son who stayed. The dad had to go out to find him too. While throwing the welcome back party, the eldest son wouldn’t come into the house. He stayed outside on the deck dwelling on what he assumed to be his brother’s worst offenses--whoring around. There’s actually no indication in the story that the younger brother slept with people for money. Which says to me this was maybe a weakness/desire of the older brother. He doth protest too much….and wanted no part of the celebration. The Stay-At-Home Dad had to reassure him of his love too. And remind this second son that forgiveness goes hand in hand in hand with righteousness and love.
Sounds about like every day with my kiddos...stepping out to meet them where they’re at. Lots of love and acceptance given to them as they both struggle with jealousy and unforgiveness. It's easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated as a parent. Thankfully, I can cling to God’s promise in Matthew 5:6 that you can be happy if you hunger and thirst for right living--for yourself and others. That clawing worry about their future can be sated. You can be satisfied and happy. How best to describe that level of satisfaction? I think the Stay-At-Home dad probably felt this way running out to meet his Prodigal Son. It’s like the fullness felt after Thanksgiving dinner, the joy of Christmas breakfast after opening presents and the neverending plenty of a Golden Corral buffet. I call that one Happy Meal.