Bread and Stones
In the Gospel Reading, Jesus has not eaten for forty days, and then he feels the whole forty days’ worth of hunger. That’s a lot of hunger! Satan urges Jesus to turn stones into bread.
Now there’s nothing good about hunger, and there’s nothing bad about bread. On the contrary, Jesus himself commands us to pray for bread daily.
And there is no question about the fact that Jesus has the power to provide bread for himself. He can stop being hungry by using his divine power to turn stones into bread. In fact, Jesus himself tells us that if a son asks his father for bread, no good father will give him a stone (Lk.11:11). So Jesus could get bread from stones just by asking his father, who is God and good, to give him bread.
Why doesn’t Jesus do so? And what are we to make of the line with which Jesus refuses Satan’s suggestion: People do not live by bread alone? If I suggest that you might like some ham, what sense does it make for you to tell me that people do not live by ham alone?
Notice, though, that that line does make sense if what you are telling me is that you are full. In another Gospel, Jesus says, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). Jesus himself is the Word of God, and he came into the desert filled with the Spirit of God (Lk. 4:1). Even though he is hungry after so long a fast, then, there is another sense in which he really is full.
Jesus’ rejection of Satan’s urging gives us a pattern for our lives. In our suffering, when those things we think we need in order to live are denied us, we do not have to be desperate. When we are hungry for what we do not have because our Father God has not given it, we still have the Word of God, which comes into us and can fill us. Jesus, who is the cornerstone of the Church, is our bread at the same time. And so we can be like him: full—even when, in the stony parts of our lives, we are hungry, too.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University