Brennan Manning tells a wonderful story about Esther Schwartz – a Jewish woman – and her three-year-old grandson, Jacob. She was planning a trip to the beach with her precious Jacob, so she purchased him a canary yellow sun hat so that his beautiful little face would not get sunburned. She also got him a little pail and shovel so that he could play in the sand. The day arrives and they head to the beach. She marvels over little Jacob as he carefully picks the sand up with his little plastic shovel and puts it into the bucket. In her heart she prays, “Oh, Yahweh, thank you so much for Jacob.” Just then a tremendous wave comes along, picks up her precious Jacob – pail, shovel, canary yellow hat and all – and washes him out to sea. Esther Schwartz was very upset. She yells up at God, “Who do You think You are? Do You know who I am? I am Esther Schwartz. My husband, Solomon Schwartz, is a physician, and my son, Billy Schwartz, is a dentist. How dare you do that?” At that moment a second huge wave crashes in washing little precious Jacob, pail and shovel, right back on shore at Esther’s feet. She smiled down at her grandson, then looked to heaven with her hands on her hips and shouted, “He had a canary yellow hat! Where’s the hat?”
Do you think God ever looks down from Heaven and wants to shout, “You people are never satisfied!”
The Israelites had been slaves to the Egyptians for four hundred years before Moses came along and said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” Yet, even though they received their freedom, when they got out in the desert there was one complaint after another. The water was bitter, so God had Moses throw a piece of wood into it and the water became sweet. There was no meat to eat, so they complained to Moses, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” God heard their cry and sent them quail and manna from Heaven, the bread of angels. Yet the people continued to complain. The Lord knew they needed bread, meat and water; and He would continue to provide for them just as He had in the past, yet the people grumbled?
Then there was the time that the Lord wasn’t acting fast enough for them. Moses had gone up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments and when he didn’t return, they said to Aaron, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Enter the golden calf. Not only were they not satisfied with the things that the Lord had done for them, they weren’t even satisfied with the Lord Himself.
Today we read about the sin of King David. We’ve discussed this one before. David sees Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. David desires her, so he conspires to have Uriah killed. He succeeds and takes Bathsheba as his wife. The Lord, speaking through the prophet Nathan says to David, “I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight?” I did so much for you, why weren’t you satisfied?
In both cases, the Israelites in the desert and David with Bathsheba, their lack of being satisfied with what God had already provided and their desire for more, led them to complaining and sin. The Psalmist says:
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act….
Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him.
Yet, when God refused to give them what they wanted, they sought to satisfy those desires themselves. I’m glad we’re not like them! I wish that were true. Unfortunately, I think there is a little complaining in us all.
Jesus tells us that our Father in Heaven knows our needs even before we ask. Even so, he tells us not to hesitate in asking, going on to say, “Whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” And again, “How much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” However, even though we may receive, even though we may have all that we need, even though God has provided for us in the past, we may still complain.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote in The Sorrows of Young Werther, “A dim vastness is spread before our souls; the perceptions of our mind are as obscure as those of our vision; and we desire earnestly to surrender up our whole being, that it may be filled with the complete and perfect bliss of one glorious emotion. But alas! when we have attained our object, when the distant ‘there’ becomes the present ‘here,’ all is changed; we are as poor and circumscribed as ever, and our souls still languish for unattainable happiness.” Even when our desires are fulfilled, we immediately start looking for more.
A band that was around throughout the 90’s, “The The” – Yes, that’s their name! – “The The,” wrote the song, True Happiness this Way Lies. A bit of the lyrics:
Baby!… I’ve got my sight set on you
And someday… you’ll come my way.
But when you put your arms around me
I’ll be looking over your shoulder for something new.
Any truth in that?
So Fr. John, what is the problem? Why am I never satisfied? Why am I always looking for more? Answer: Because you are looking for bread that will only fill your stomach. You are looking for something that will only satisfy you for a few hours instead of seeking that which will satisfy you for all eternity.
The day before our Gospel reading is the feeding of the 5,000. It is this group that has followed Jesus across the dangerous sea, but they have followed him, not because He is the Lord and not because He has offered them salvation. They have followed Him because He may provide some immediate, but temporary satisfaction. He even calls them out saying, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” If we seek Jesus with the same motivation, immediate and temporary satisfaction, we will most always be disappointed.
To be satisfied, we seek Jesus for love of Him, not for the love of what he can do for us. Yes! Ask for whatever you will. He wants you to, but don’t love Him for what He does for you, because if He doesn’t satisfy that immediate and temporary desire, then you will complain against Him. Instead, love Him for who He is. Consider these words of Thomas a Kempis from The Imitation of Christ, “The wise lover regards not so much the gift of Him Who loves as the love of Him Who gives. He regards the affection of the Giver rather than the value of the gift, and sets his Beloved above all gifts. The noble lover does not rest in the gift, but in Jesus who is above every gift.” Archbishop Michael Ramsay picked up this same thought in his work Sacred and Secular. He wrote, “the gift must not be loved more than the Giver.”
Our relationship with God, our love of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is not based on those gifts that he may give us, instead our love for God is based purely on the fact that he is God. He has already given us that which we are in most desperate need of: Eternal Life with Him.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
It is in tasting Jesus that you will be satisfied.
St. Francis Xavier wrote a beautiful hymn, My God, I Love You. A translation of his words serve as our prayer. Let us pray:
My God, I love You; not because I hope for heaven,
Nor because those who do not love You are lost eternally.
You, my Jesus, You embraced me upon the cross;
For me You bore the nails, and spear, and manifold disgrace,
And griefs and torments numberless, and sweat of agony;
Yes, death itself; and all for me who was Your enemy.
Then why, Blessed Jesus Christ, should I not love You well?
Not for the sake of winning heaven, nor of escaping hell;
Not from the hope of gaining anything, not seeking a reward;
But as You have loved me, O ever-loving Lord.
So would I love You, dearest Lord, and in Your praise will sing;
Solely because You are my God, and my most loving King. Amen.