Homeward Bound: Our hunger for God’s word
Every year on the first Sunday of Lent, we hear about Jesus preparing for his ministry by going into the desert and arguing with the devil. One of my sons, upon hearing that Jesus was offered the power to turn stones into bread, mumbled under his breath that Jesus should have taken the deal. I was shocked—not so much at what he said, but that he was listening at all. Before he could lapse back into his usual teenage taciturnity, I asked him to explain. He said, in that voice reserved for parents and idiots, that there is a lot of hunger in the world. Point well taken.
What would have been so wrong with taking the deal? Three times Satan offers Jesus power. First, power over hunger: A man who can turn stones into bread need never be hungry again. He could feed the world. He could feed all those little children whose faces haunt us, extending their bowls for their one poor meal a day.
Second, political power over the kingdoms of the world: This is the power we long for when we say, “If I were the president…,” “If I were the pope….” Think of how much good we could do!
Third, power even over death and the suffering that precedes it: Don’t we all seek this power in some way?
Jesus’ response is always the same: God is my only God. The devil’s way is to do big things in a big way. God’s way seems to be to do the next little thing—to feed the one person placed on our path, not the whole world; to do the good it is in our power to do, not to long for more power; to accept the powerlessness of suffering and death (even death on a cross!).
The sustenance of the disciple is supposed to be the word of God. We are to devour it as a hungry child devours bread. We are to listen to the gospel like passengers stranded at an airport, on the edge of their seats, straining to hear every announcement, desperate for word of how and when they’ll finally get home. I don’t listen to the gospel like that. At Sunday Mass I listen to the readings as I do the stories of a garrulous old uncle—outwardly polite but thinking of other things—because, no offense, I’ve heard this story before.
Or have I?
A Cherokee chief, Drowning Bear, was presented with a Christian Bible. After several chapters were read to him, he said, “It seems to be good book—strange that the white people are not better after having had it so long.”
Mahatma Gandhi said, “I like your Christ…[but] your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
A little fifth-grade girl heard at her all-school Mass the parable of the sheep and goats and Jesus’ astonishing identification with the poor—what we do for the least ones, we do for him. Her startled response was, “Do other Catholics know about this?” Her question echoes the words of John Carr, Secretary of the Department of Social Development and World Peace for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In a talk on the social doctrine of the Church, he said this parable is the only place in the gospel where Jesus tells us what we need to do to get into heaven. (You want to go read it now, don’t you? It’s Matthew 25:31–46.)
I need Lent. I need the desert of quiet where I can hear God’s word like I’ve never heard it before and maybe make a meal of it. I need to listen like a weary, travel-worn passenger who wants to find her way home.