Not by bread alone: Lenten meditation
Arguably, the survival instinct is the strongest and most natural in all living beings. One thing that comes to the fore in the observance of Lent is the need for sacrifice, whereby we give up certain luxuries of life. The aim of the observance is to enhance our spiritual sensitivity and to make us more alert to divine signals. When Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights, we are told that, after that period, He became hungry. Hunger is a strong desire for whatever will satisfy our appetite either for food or for some other desires of life.
The tempter posed the challenge to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread,” Matt. 4:3. For one who was physically hungry, this definitely was a strong temptation. He certainly needed food to satisfy His hunger, but not the way the tempter wanted Him to go about it. If He succumbed, then that would become the pattern of His ministry: the will of the Father would be subordinated to His pleasure. But the Lord Jesus saw beyond the hunger and the offer of the tempter. He knew He had come not to do His own will, but the Father’s will. That must remain the top priority. So, he responded: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” Matt. 4:4.
The question has sometimes been asked, “Do you eat to live or live to eat?” Simple as it is, it goes to the roots of our being and probes the controlling passions. Hunger can kill, and we have to understand what kind of hunger we need to satisfy to be able to fulfill the purpose for our existence.
The Lord Jesus got it right: He knew that this hunger would be best satisfied through God’s appointed channels and not by bowing to the tempter’s challenge. Life confronts us with many desires and cravings and all sorts of ways to satisfy our yearnings. Some are legitimate, some are flawed, and some are outright demonic. We do need the counsel that comes from God’s word through the leading of His Holy Spirit, and from godly people to know what is safe in seeking to satisfy our different kinds of hunger. There are some desires that, when satisfied, actually destroy the purpose for our lives because the right channels have been compromised. The end does not always justify the means. We need the help of the Spirit of God to discern a legitimate and God-honouring way of meeting our desires and satisfying our hunger.
Bread satisfies physical hunger, but Jesus points to something that is a better alternative when He made that response. Lent teaches us to hunger and thirst for more of God Himself, more of His Word as revealed to us in the Bible, and more of His will being known and done on earth as it is in Heaven.
When we fail to recognise God’s provision for us and all that He has made available for our satisfaction, that is when we cross the red and suicidal line, which is the highway to the false and dangerous promise of satisfaction. That was what brought Adam and Eve to their early spiritual grave. On the other hand, Christ’s mindset, from beginning to the end is what made Him triumph over the grave (see Philippians 2:5-11).
• The Most Rev. Emmanuel Egbunu is the Bishop of the Diocese of Lokoja