On this first Sunday in Lent, Christians around the world will hear Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. The movements of the story are familiar: the tempter makes an offer to Jesus three times, and three times Jesus rebuffs him. Today, I wanted to take a moment to focus on the first interaction between Jesus and the devil:
The tempter came and said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:3-4)
Jesus’ response is packed with meaning and recalls an important moment in Israel’s history. After the tempter suggests that Jesus turn stones in to bread, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, recalling God’s provision of manna in the wilderness. Jesus indicates that when we are in the wilderness, we are not meant to rely on cheap parlor tricks, but rather on the grace and mercy of God. One also can’t help but hear echoes of Isaiah in Jesus’ response to the devil: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2). Jesus points away from the empty and easy promises of mere satisfaction and toward the true fullness that comes from a relationship with God.
In spite of this, it’s hard not to fault Jesus in this situation. After all, there are lots of hungry people in the world, and most of them are probably more interested in bread than they are in the words that come from the mouth of God. Isn’t Jesus indulging in an unaffordable luxury by refusing to create food when he has the opportunity?
Just a few chapters after we hear Jesus refuse to make bread for himself, Matthew relates the story of the feeding of the multitude. The striking thing about this story is not its miraculous nature, but the fact that Jesus shifts the perception of the gathered crowd. When Jesus asks his disciples what they can share with the hungry people, they say, “Nothing…except for two fish and a few loaves.” Jesus invites the people gathered in that wilderness to look at what they have in a new way, to understand that even when we have limited resources, we can share them with those in need.
Ultimately, Jesus does not turn stones into bread because that would accomplish very little; it would not feed anyone except Jesus. But the next time he is in a deserted place and food becomes an issue, Jesus invites his disciples to share their meager lunch with the gathered multitude. Jesus indicates that feeding the hungry is not an individual enterprise; it requires relationship. In the same way, the process of becoming a faithful person is shaped within the context of community. This morning, the Curate at Heavenly Rest reminded us that we’re not meant to go through Lent by ourselves, but rather within a community of people who are also struggling to be faithful. When we gather around the bread of the Eucharist, I pray we will remember that our lives are not sustained only by loaves of bread, but by relationships with God and one another.