“I’m starving.” How many times in the course of my life have I uttered those words without thinking? How many times have I truly missed a meal? Or not had food available in my refrigerator or pantry? How many times have I not been able to go to the grocery store and take my pick from all kinds of different foods coming in all sorts of different brands and varieties? I am certainly not rich. Not by American standards. I know what it’s like to be on public assistance. To have to go down to the welfare office and pick up WIC checks. I know what it’s like to have the grocery store clerk treat me differently when I am paying with government checks than when I am paying with my own money. So I get it on some level but I’ve never experienced deep, aching hunger or parched, unquenchable thirst.
But I’ve met those who do. In a place called Gojjo. In a country called Ethiopia. On a continent known as Africa. I go there every year and have the privilege of meeting those who hunger and thirst every single day. For them, hunger and thirst are constant companions. Whether its the crop that has failed or the contaminated water that flows from the spring, these folks have to deal with it all the time. They never eat until they are full. They never drink until their thirst is quenched. They live in constant fear that the food and water they consume is contaminated with bacteria that will make them sick. It is a hard, hard life. And yet, they are so full of joy! Especially the Christians!
What’s their secret? Matthew 5:6. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. What my Ethiopian brothers and sisters have discovered is a satisfaction so deep and so profound it transcends their physical condition. Through their common suffering and shared life experience, they have learned to lean on each other. To trust each other. To encourage each other. To provide for each other. They think of themselves NOT so much as individuals but as a family. They rarely use the word “I” but tend to think in terms of “we.” They draw their primary identity as Christians not from their economic status or race or gender or tribal affiliation but from their church family. It’s an incredible thing to experience.
When we read Scripture in America, we tend to read it in highly individualistic terms. For example, we read Matthew 5:6 and immediately start to think about what it means for “me” to hunger. For “me” to thirst for righteousness. For “me” to be satisfied. And yet the language Jesus is using is clearly directed at a community. A group of people gathered together to listen and learn from Him. There is an assumption Jesus is making here. Something so obvious, He wouldn’t have thought it necessary to even mention. No man is an island. None of us are truly on our own. We are all part of a web of relationships – a community – made up of people from all walks of life and backgrounds and experiences. And we are all hungry. We are all thirsty. We all long to be satisfied.
A lot of research has been done over the years on what makes our species unique. What is it about humanity that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom? At least one argument is that we seem to have a desperate need to connect with something transcendent. Something beyond ourselves. To paraphrase Jesus, we are a spiritually hungry people. Hungry for more than this life has to offer. Hungry for something only God can provide.
So good news and bad news. The bad news is that we try sooooo hard to satisfy our hunger with something other than God. We turn to alcohol. Drugs. Sex. Money. Power. Influence. Control. Reputation. Success. You name it. All in an effort to fill this God-shaped void in our hearts. Only it’s like eating cotton candy. You just never feel full. Then there is the good news. The good news is that the same God who created us with this hunger for transcendence actually visits our world to show us the way to find true fulfillment. In Jesus Christ, the fullness of God dwells. And in Jesus Christ, those who are spiritually hungry and thirsty will be satisfied.
So getting back to the part we often overlook…community. One of the primary ways Jesus satisfies His people is through the local church. Through a local body of believers who literally become the hands and feet of Jesus to one another. Some of the last words Jesus shared with his disciples, specifically with Peter, were to “feed His sheep.” And that charge is now extended through those first disciples to all of us who call ourselves Christians. When we become part of a church family, we have the opportunity to make sure the spiritually hungry get fed. The spiritually thirsty find Living Water. Life in community is not an option for the Christian. It is a significant part of the means of grace God has provided to satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.