“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6; ESV).
It’s easy to take clean water for granted in the U.S., especially if you drink filtered and bottled spring water all the time. Did you know that nearly 700 million people across the world lack access to clean water? That’s nearly ten percent of the people on the planet. Papua New Guinea has the worst clean water access. It’s one thing if you live in the gentrified Port Moresby, but if you live in the surrounding jungles your access to clean water is far worse. Sixty percent of the country’s population don’t have the means of purifying their water supply, even though their water resources are abundant. This is no small matter, as disease and infant mortality rates have climbed dramatically, even as the urban poor have been forced to migrate to the jungle mountains.
A pastor among the mountain poor in Papua New Guinea named Magi invited a fellow pastor named Mark from Beaverton, Oregon to assist him and his people gain access to clean water. Mark and a lay leader in his church named Jim have expertise in the science and technology of water drilling and purification. However, they didn’t go with an expert’s attitude to lead a group of servants, but as servants with expertise to assist Magi and his people as the indigenous people saw fit. There’s a major difference in the posture between the two approaches. Among other things, they did not intrude, but were invited. They learned from Magi and others what the situation entailed, and what would work best for them, and what skills and expertise they already had that could be drawn upon in assisting with water purification. Such education is truly equitable and righteous, not elitist.
I mentioned earlier that it’s easy to take clean water for granted. Perhaps some of us also take righteousness and justice for granted. We’re so blessed in America to have a legal system that is sound, even though we often fail to implement its ideals and procedures appropriately. However, I can’t be blessed in the way that Jesus intends in Matthew 5:6 if I don’t hunger and thirst for righteousness. Those who are truly hungry and thirsty never take their food and drink for granted. I’ve never been displaced from my home due to gentrification or other means. But as many Native Americans and African Americans can testify, gentrification is a real threat for them historically and presently. The same gentrified reality is painfully real for Magi and his people, as they had no other option than to move from the city to the surrounding jungles. Like many cities that have experienced urban renewal, Mark mentions that some hail Port Moresby’s renewal as a great success story. “But for whom?” Mark asks. The displaced urban poor? Or the rich, the government, and Western corporate industries who have partnered with the government to renew the city and remove the poor? Just like the clean water, many of us—myself included—take our middle and upper class justice for granted.
Jesus’ beatitude about hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Matthew 5:6) was not lost on the hungry and thirsty people hanging on his every word. No doubt, many of them were living on daily bread without surplus in the fridge or even a filtered water dispenser in the fridge door. As much as Jesus fed the masses physically, as the gospels record (See Matthew 14:13-21), he always exhorted the people to hunger and thirst for righteousness, which was also in short supply for them under Rome’s oppressive rule.
As a pastor, Magi and his associates, with the help of Mark and Jim, are caring for people’s physical and spiritual hunger and thirst. Magi doesn’t take physical or spiritual food and drink for granted. He also understands that the former does not come with a promise of being filled, whereas the latter does (See Matthew 5:6). So, while the mortality rate is declining due to the clean water access they now have, Magi recognizes the huge gains they’ve made can dry up in an instant if those with money and power push them further into the jungle. And so, Magi’s also helping his community find eternal sustenance, which no government or company can take away. That’s nothing to take for granted, but only to the everlasting food bank. Let’s take it to heart and drink to that.
Readers are also encouraged to read the biblical meditation titled “‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’—not those who crave fast food justice.”
World Health Organization, “Key Facts from JMP 2015 Report,” accessed January 22, 2017; http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/monitoring/jmp-2015-key-facts/en/. Many thanks to Mark Nicklas for various relevant online resources.
The Guardian, “Papua New Guinea has world’s worst access to clean water, says Water Aid” accessed February 14, 2017; https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/mar/22/papua-new-guinea-worst-access-clean-water-wateraid.
World Health Organization/UNICEF, “Key facts from Joint Monitoring Program 2015 report,” accessed March 4, 2017; http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/monitoring/jmp-2015-key-facts/en/.