When I was in college, I purchased my first upright bass. I’d been playing electric bass in bands for years, but one day at a concert, I saw a guy playing an upright bass. His fingers were gliding up and down the strings, and every eye in the room was glued to him. I remember thinking, Man, that dude is the coolest guy here because of that big old bass.
At the time, that was my MO — I wanted to do whatever it took to be the coolest guy in the room. I wanted to be the guy at the center of the party, making everyone happy. So, naturally, I did what any reasonable person would do: I went and got myself an enormous upright bass. After my purchase, I realized that those huge upright bass strings are not for the weak of heart!
The first time I ever jammed with my buddies at a gig, I had three massive blisters before we were done with the first set. Smart people would probably take a break at that point until their hands healed, right? Of course they would.
Well, I just popped those blisters, all three of them, and stuck my hand in hot saltwater. After all, we had two more sets in the gig. Every set I came out with more blisters, so I’d pop them, soak them, and keep playing.
When I got home that night, my hands were more bloody and cracked than I’d ever seen them. (Thanks, upright bass!) So I did what any self-respecting wannabe professional bass player would do: I grabbed some superglue and glued my fingers back together. After all, I had a lesson the next day!
I was studying with the principal bassist in the New Jersey Symphony at the time, and when he saw my superglued fingers, he argued with me and tried to get me to take a day off. But I didn’t want to take time off, so we had our lesson as usual. It wasn’t easy. I played bass with tears streaming down my face from the pain.
I know you’re probably thinking, Fusco, you’re nuts! In a way, I kind of was. But in another way, it made a lot of sense. I was really trying to get somewhere in my career, so in my mind I had to do what I had to do. I was focused on the end goal. Eyes on the prize. Desire—a powerful motivator.
Think about the things you’ve desired along life’s way, maybe the things you’re desiring right now. Those desires drive you, the decisions you make, and why you make those decisions. One popular world religion, Buddhism, teaches that desire causes us suffering and should be avoided through detachment. But Jesus teaches the opposite.
Listen, the thirsts and the hungers we have are important. As disordered as our lives can become, in the kingdom of God, our deepest desires are God given. And they are aimed at making our lives beautiful and, ultimately, crazy happy. Does this mean that every expression of those desires is healthy? No. But wanting good things is, well, good.
As we take this journey to discover what constitutes a beautiful life, we find that Jesus doesn’t want us to get rid of our desires; he wants us to seek him for their fulfillment. Why? Because he has a purpose for our longing, a deeper purpose that is the why behind our what.
Whatever we desire drives our lives. My desire to be a musician drove me, through tears, to ignore my own physical pain to perform to the best of my ability. But on the other hand, part of my music industry life at the time also included a desire to party the hardest I knew how to. And that led to some really destructive consequences.
This is why Jesus calls that person blessed who desires righteousness above everything else. All other things fall into place behind that hunger. And just like the consequences I experienced, desiring the ethics of God’s kingdom has consequences. But they are blessed consequences when in the presence of true righteousness.
So what does this mean? Righteousness in this beatitude refers to all things that are right. (I know — obvious. But bear with me.) This includes not only a personal righteousness but also righteousness as it pervades society. Societal righteousness is what we call justice — all things in society working rightly together. In other words, Jesus is not simply telling us to be morally upstanding (although, of course, he wants that). But weren’t the Pharisees the masters of the moral? Yeah! It was their hypocrisy, by ignoring the demands of true and righteous justice, that put them in danger of Christ’s judgment.
Contemporary culture is rightfully passionate about social justice, but too often it doesn’t want to look at each individual’s choices and responsibilities before a God who is perfectly righteous. And that’s the problem.
See, we can’t have justice in a culture without personal righteousness too. And the Bible teaches that we can’t have individual personal righteousness unless we receive it as a gift from Jesus. So even with our culture’s much-desired passion for justice, I think we’re trying to get at it the wrong way, and it will never work out in the end.
The gospel informs us that all of us are unrighteous. Maybe we’re not as bad as we could be, but we’re never as good as we should be either. All of us fell. Jesus didn’t.
It’s a mystery, but when we place our trust in Jesus, his resurrection becomes our resurrection. Our unrighteousness traded for his righteousness.
It’s the great switcheroo, so to speak. (Can I please recommend that as a theological term moving forward?)
This is the great exchange that transforms our hunger into his.
This is an excerpt from Crazy Happy: Nine Surprising Ways to Live the Truly Beautiful Life by Daniel Fusco (Waterbrook, 2021). Used with permisson