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I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | A thirst for God is His gift to us

In seeking the greatest gift, what we are looking for isn't a rich man to bail us out of poverty, but rather the One who lived in poverty, died as a criminal and now invites us into His poverty. The greatest gift that we receive from God is the very hunger to seek Him.

This seeking is much like our body looking for the next breath. The air we inhale isn't ours, and we can't hold on to it, but we have to exhale it so as to seek more of what we can't possess. Yet this constant seeking gives us life and energy.

So it is with God. He placed in our hearts a hunger to seek Him, and Sunday's reading from Zephaniah reveals that He also commands to seek. "Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, who have observed His law; seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you may be sheltered on the day of the Lord's anger."

Here anger is not used as a negative emotion God vents upon us when we do wrong; rather, when, with His permissive will, we suffer some reversal of fortune, we have the virtues of humility and justice to shelter us from discouragement.

Our God tells us that He will leave in our midst a "remnant" of people who will demonstrate these virtues to us to give us hope and confidence in Him. The virtuous deeds of others inspire us to seek the source of their virtue. Their virtuous behavior whets our appetites to seek these same gifts from the same God. The very thirst for God is His gift to us.

In the letter to the Corinthians, Paul hails all those in whom God has placed a desire to seek Him. When they respond to this God-given hunger, He is able to choose them for Himself. Those whom He chose weren't the ones wise by human standards, nor the powerful, nor those of noble birth, but rather the weak and the lowly. These are the ones whom God chose to be in Christ Jesus, "Who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption...." God gave Himself totally in Christ Jesus to all those who sought Him. The God they sought in their poverty ended up possessing them in His love.

The Sermon on the Mount is such a treasure trove of God's riches that is never fully taken in by a lifetime of seeking. Recall that God revealed the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, accompanied by a violent earthquake, thunder and lightning. Here Jesus reveals the beatitudes on another mount in a setting of beauty, joy and peace. The hungry and thirsty have come to be fed and watered, and Jesus doesn't disappoint.

In the first of the beatitudes, Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The Greek word, which we translate as "blessed," has a far richer meaning. One scholar says that the word "blessed" suggests something like "a good adventure," meaning that those who are poor in spirit are on a good adventure. This makes all the sense in the world. They want the goodness of God as much as our body wants our next breath.

Just who are the poor in spirit? They aren't necessarily those living in physical poverty, but rather those who are so aware of the spiritual poverty they can't take it anymore without crying out to God for help. The more they pray and read the Scriptures, the more they discover how their relationships with others are so riddled with brokenness, pain and a hunger for relief.

Their very poverty is their greatest gift, because it moves them to seek relief from their painful missteps. Their poverty causes them to pant, hunger and thirst for the goodness possessed by God alone.

The longer they live and the harder they try, they realize they can't patch up their brokenness. Ultimately, being overwhelmed by awareness of their sinfulness, they finally surrender their poverty and welcome God's relief into their hearts. That is when the Sacred Heart of Jesus takes over and consoles them. He reveals to them His deep friendship and love for them.

The greater the awareness of their poverty, the more welcoming they are in inviting in the Sacred Heart of Jesus for relief.

Let us begin by taking just this first beatitude and applying it to our lives, because what we learn from this experience, we might also apply to the other beatitudes.

What is our initial reaction when we sin? Isn't it to turn against ourselves and hate ourselves? So often the next step is to blame others. When the blame game does not give us peace, we then resort to denial. "I don't know why I am so upset. I really didn't do anything wrong."

The next step is to neglect prayer. "I really don't need to pray because I am a good person." The very reason we don't want to pray is that we know prayer will uncover our sin, and we don't want to deal with that. That leaves us with a restless spirit.

In our desperation for God's peace we finally surrender and say, "OK, God, show me my sins," and then we have a lot to talk about. With that comes immediate relief from our denials and the release of God's mercy into our spirit. That is why Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." 

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