One night about a year ago, Doan and I were at the house of some friends when one of them, we’ll call him “Ed”, said that we should come back soon and have some ham. I found that oddly funny, but it turns out that there was some sort of deal on ham at ShopRite and Ed had bought his family an actual truckload of ham, and he was itching to dip into his surplus. He was, as he put it, “ham rich”, and he wanted to spread the wealth among the ham hungry.
“In the Gospel Reading, Jesus is hungry, and Satan tempts him. “Turn these stones into bread,” he says to Jesus. And Jesus rebuffs the temptation by saying to Satan, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from God.”
“Imagine a host asking one of his guests, “Would you like some ham?” How perplexed the host would be if his guest answered, “Man does not live by ham alone!” The question was not whether the guest would like to eat ham and nothing but ham. The question was just whether he would like some ham now. Why not say, “Sure! Thanks!”?
“So why doesn’t Jesus do the miracle? And why does he reject Satan’s urging by pointing out that man does not live by bread alone? Of course, we don’t live just on bread! But bread is one of the things by which human beings live. In another place Jesus himself explains that no good father will give his son a stone if his son asks for bread. Here is Jesus hungry and having only stones. Why shouldn’t he have bread instead?
“When a guest says to the host who is offering him ham, “Man does not live by ham alone!” he might be using these words to communicate to his host the thought, completely perplexing in the circumstances, that human beings live on other stuff besides ham.
“But, of course, there is another interpretation. The guest might also be telling his host, graciously, that he is full. There are other things to eat besides ham, and a person who has no ham doesn’t need to be hungry, because he has eaten an abundance of those other things. (like, say, pork roll)
“And that is what Jesus is telling Satan, isn’t it? Anyone who has the word of God does not lack what human beings need to live. “No thanks,” Jesus is telling Satan: “I’m full.”1
How often do we get to say that? Nah, I’m good, I’ve got everything I need. We might well have all of the material things we need: more food than we can eat, the magic of indoor plumbing, a couple of bucks in our pockets. But how many of us have what we need, what we crave, spiritually? There is an obvious spiritual crisis in this world, radically evident in how people spend their time and money. The promise of spiritual fulfillment is so often sold to those who seek it, sold in the form of self-help books, yoga classes, whatever Sting is up to now, anything to “live your best life now.”
You can probably guess what I’m going to say next: we can’t buy spiritual fulfillment. We can’t satisfy our needs by following 7 basic life rules or even by setting apart time for God every day. It just doesn’t work that way. It might not hurt, mind you, but it won’t fill you up. It’s not for sale, and sheer effort isn’t enough.
That’s because spiritual satisfaction is only found in the desert, so to speak. It’s found when we finally acknowledge our total dependence on God; in admitting that our souls cannot be fixed, only saved; in finding that the only sustenance worth having is every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
It’s then that we find that Jesus, who is the Word of God, gives to us all we need to live; to not be just ham rich, but heirs to the riches of the Kingdom of God.
1Eleanor Stump: http://liturgy.slu.edu/1LentA030517/reflections_stump.html