Archive | March, 2017
All or Nothing

All or Nothing

I am preparing for an upcoming trip where I will have the opportunity to recite the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) from memory.  I did this at our church several years ago and have been working on refreshing it for the trip.  While doing so, I remembered one (among many) striking and powerful lessons to be drawn from the greatest sermon ever preached.

There is a fascinating grammatical anomaly in 5:6— “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied”— that has to be mentioned if we are to truly interpret Jesus’ words in this verse with accuracy.  In Greek, it is a rule of good grammar that verbs of hungering and thirsting are followed by nouns in the genitive case.  The genitive is often expressed in English with the word “of.”  Examples of the genitive in English would be “peace of mind,” “love of God,” “object of faith.”  Why does the genitive follow nouns of hungering and thirsting in Greek?  Because only the genitive case can give the partitive sense.  That means the object is desired only in part and this is why it used with hunger and thirst.  For example, when you say, “I’m hungry,” you are saying you are hungry for only part of the food on the table and not all of it.  In English, it is understood that when you come to the table and say, “I’m hungry.  That looks good.  I can’t wait to eat it,” it is understood that you have no intention of eating every bit of food on the table but will only eat your share.  In Greek this can be delineated in the partitive genitive.

The striking thing in this verse is that when Jesus says blessed is the man who is hungry for righteousness, “righteousness” is not in the genitive, but in the accusative.  In the accusative, this means you do want the entire thing.  In the genitive, “pass the bread” would mean “pass the bread so that I may have a piece of it.”  In the accusative, “pass the bread” would mean “pass every piece of bread on the table to me because I am going to eat it all.”

This is so important that Matthew wrote it in this way because it is how we ought to be toward righteousness— doing God’s will.  We treat God’s will too many times like the genitive- we only want to do parts of it.  We say, “God I want to love you and follow you, but…”  and what comes next is something to satisfy our selfish/sinful desires.  To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to follow God on his terms, not ours.  We’re not truly hungering and thirsting for God if we want to mix sinfulness in with it.  Jesus affirms in this verse in the Sermon on the Mount what the Scripture says so often about following God— it is not an and/or proposition (having God and the world), but rather an either/or construct.  Jesus said in Matthew 12:30, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

In our daily lives, let’s strive to hunger and thirst for all of God’s will and Word, not just the parts that suit us, or those accepted by the world, or are easy, but all of it.