“When did we see you hungering . . ?” Matthew 25:37
Hungering – Ah, but Jesus didn’t say we saw Him starving. You see, the word here is peinao, not limos. The Greek word peinao means to be in need of regular nourishment while limos means to fatally lack sustenance. The application difference is important. Too often we think righteousness is associated with relief from famine. We think Jesus commented on limos, telling us that those who step in with aid for disaster victims are meeting the standard He set in this parable. We think seeing Him hungry is the same as seeing the starving masses of the world and sending them our surplus. We are wrong.
What is at stake in Jesus’ parable is not famine relief but rather daily required nourishment. According to the parable, when we provide of the daily bread of another, we are demonstrating the character of the Kingdom. We don’t have to wait for disaster to strike. We only have to see that someone is in need. They don’t have to be starving. They only have to be hungry.
Of course, peinao covers a wider range than just hunger for food. It really means an avid desire for something necessary for life. Most importantly, in the Old Testament background peinao suggests persistent hunger. It is the daily need for life-giving elements. What are these daily needs? Well, we could start with obvious ones – from our perspective. Food and shelter come high on the list. But the Bible doesn’t start here. Yes, of course, life requires food and shelter, but the biblical priority is peace with God above and beyond everything else! Deuteronomy 28:47 makes it clear. Rejection by God brings terrible, life-threatening results. No human effort to provide life’s necessities will ultimately succeed if there is no peace with God. Our perception of what is necessary is clouded by the influence of the yetzer ha’ra. We discover the first commandment is the most important commandment, not for religious purposes but for life itself.
So, what do we really need for life? We need God on our side. With that in place, everything else is an enjoyment of His blessings. How can Jesus call the hungry blessed? Only because in His mind, the persistent need for peace with God leads directly to submission to God’s will – and that guarantees God’s provision. Only those who have an avid desire for the righteousness of the Lord will ultimately be satisfied. Their persistent hunger for Him will bring a life of fulfillment. Of course, that does not mean a life of the fulfillment of the desires of the yetzer ha’ra. It means God places His desires into our hearts and then proceeds to bring them about in the lives we live.
Do you know someone who is hungry, who has an avid, daily desire for peace with the Lord? That desire might show up in the need for food, shelter and work, but that will not be the end of the story. Nor will it be the end of fulfilling the need. When you feed someone who has a persistent desire, it is never a one-time event.
“When did we see you hungering?” Every time you encounter someone who needs to know God is good, all the time.
Topical Index: hunger, peinao, limos, daily bread, blessing, Matthew 25:37