What happens when a reasonable, even desirable goal, say, the satisfaction of a legitimate human need, becomes, almost perversely, an end in itself?
A multitude of 5,000 was hungry. Jesus fed them. Later, noticing Jesus had departed, the crowd looked for him. The motive of their earnest quest? Not gratitude. Much less, respect. Simply enough, as they had been fed, they wanted more.
So, for the Israelites. Enslaved in Egypt, they wanted freedom. God, through Moses, liberated them, leading them on their journey to the Promised Land. When they thirsted, they complained and God provided water. When hungry, they complained and God provided food. Regardless of their circumstances, the people complained. Not only about their human leaders, Moses and Aaron, but also (rather, really!) about God; bitterly crying, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in Egypt.” Yes, their desires, freedom, water, and food, were genuine and just. Who would or could argue against these fundamental necessities? However, the satisfaction of their needs became supreme. Not gratitude. Not reverence. Only fulfillment.
These stories, eras apart, say something about the changeless character of human nature and what can happen when the satisfaction of human need becomes the aim, the end in itself.
Underneath the people’s search for Jesus and their desire for more bread is a great misunderstanding. Jesus is the satisfier of human need, the solution to life’s problems. That’s his job. Or so the people believe. Jesus, however, in response to the people’s hunger for more, points to the “real deal.” He and belief in him are the true bread that sustains life not only in this world, but also for eternity. His mission is not to satisfy the world’s desires, but rather to save the world from the need to satisfy those desires; even more, to save the world from fear of captivity, hunger, thirst, and, especially, death.
Nevertheless, we humans tend to elevate the satisfaction of our needs to the highest level of importance. When this happens, we come to think that everything – God and life itself – exists to satisfy our needs and that the fulfillment of our desires is God’s job, life’s job. When this happens, we spend a lot of time worrying and complaining about whether we’re getting what we want. When I believe that really (or I should say just as truly, for, yes, our needs and their satisfaction are important) God has created each of us and set us down in time and space in the global community of this world to be of service for others.
Therefore, speaking always only for myself, my individual interest is not and cannot be only about me, my desires, my needs, and my satisfaction, but also about you and your satisfaction. This is my job as a human, as a person, and as a Christian. And I can’t, I won’t begin to fulfill this calling if I spend too great a time yearning to feed only my hunger.