One Cannot Live on Bread Alone
November 17, 2002
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread."
But he answered, "It is written, 'One cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:1-4)
Reading from Swedenborg
All temptation is an attack against the love present in a person, the intensity of temptation depending on the intensity of that love. If no love is attacked, there is no temptation. Destroying people's love is destroying their very life, for our love is our life.
The Lord's life was love for the entire human race. Indeed, it was so great and of such a nature as to be nothing but pure love. Against this life of his, temptations were directed constantly, and this was happening from earliest childhood through to his last hour in the world.
The love that was the Lord's very life is meant by his being hungry and the devil's saying, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread," and Jesus answering, "It is written that one cannot live by bread alone, but by every word of God" (Luke 4:2-4; Matthew 4:2-4). . . .
To sum up: the Lord was attacked by all the hells from earliest childhood right through to the last hour of his life in the world; he constantly overpowered, subdued, and vanquished the hells; And he did this purely out of love for the entire human race. (Arcana Coelestia #1690)
Evelyn: Did you enjoy your breakfast today?
Ivan: In Japan they would answer like this: "Due to your kindness, I really did."
E: It is a strange, although also a lovely, way to communicate. Still, what would my kindness have to do with your good appetite?
I: I asked the same question of my Japanese friends. They just smiled with a bow, their hands sliding down from their hips to their thighs.
E: This obviously meant you could trust them--that no weapon was clutched in their fists, their palms being on their sides.
I: A very good observation. Now imagine you lived in constant fear that this gesture was deceitful, and your so-called friends planned to put poison into your water or your soup.
E: I would never eat soup, and would buy water in the grocery store.
I: What an adventurous life! I expected to hear that you would lose all your appetite. And to eat without appetite is quite a misery.
E: So we can appreciate the Japanese saying, "Due to your kindness, I am well, I slept well, I ate my breakfast with delight."
I: And also we can now understand the meaning of "not by bread alone."
E: Yes. In order to enjoy everything we do--including our bread--we have to be free from fear, from disgust, from bitterness, and from pain.
I: Correct. Also, my stomach should be happy, along with all his friends in the gastrointestinal tract.
E: Then health, both physical and emotional, is necessary for enjoying a good breakfast. . . . So how are you today?
I: Just fine. And due to your kindness, too.
E: How come?
I: You left some good stuff for me to eat!
E: Aha! Here we have a new element: to have something good to eat. Now what does this mean in the spiritual sense? You do not expect us Swedenborgians to speak all those banalities about physical food and all those self-evident truths about social issues, do you?
I: There is nothing wrong with speaking of hunger, poverty, and other social ills as long as we do not forget about the dignity of human feelings, about the variety of good affections, and about removing destructive ignorance, with all its prejudices.
E: In a word, we should not only give people food and drink, but also incline our sympathetic ears to their wavering voices of despair, and put our arms around their shoulders with warm concern and unintrusive empathy.
I: Yes, this is very nice. But how, when, for how long, and where to start?
E: People in America say, "Charity starts at home."
I: As long as it does not end there. This reminds me how many members of our church give freely to all kinds of political and religious causes far away, but are ashamed or afraid to ask if somebody in their own congregation is not in critical state of physical or spiritual need.
E: It may be explained by the respect for privacy more than by insensitivity.
I: I agree. So what should be done?
E: We should learn how to open our mouths wide in order to be satisfied.
I: And we should also open our hearts and be, so to speak, open-minded, trusting others and allowing people to trust us. I just remembered something from my childhood.
E: May we trust you that it will be to the point, and that you will tell the real story without inventing anything?
I: You just made it even more urgent for my story to be told.
E: But don't forget that the Lord also has something to say. And of course, Swedenborg is eager to be heard. So go ahead, if it is that important to you.
I: I was nine years old at the time. One evening I ran home faster than usual to tell my parents and my grandmother what I had just seen in the tavern of our village.
E: What were you doing in the tavern?
I: This is exactly what they asked me. I told them that uncle Ivan, the tallest fellow in the whole county, a blacksmith, took me there when some frightened woman begged him to come and save her son from evil hands.
E: So far so good. But why should he have been so eager to go?
I: He was known as the strongest man around. Everybody was afraid of him. But of course, he never hurt innocent people.
E: How did he know who was innocent?
I: In our village, everybody knew everybody. All of them were good as long as they stayed away from the tavern. Now my uncle entered the scene. There was fighting going on. But when the name of the blacksmith reached the ears of the drunkards, suddenly the fighting stopped, and there was silence for a while.
E: Who started the fight?
I: The same words came from the mouth of my uncle. Everybody accused everybody. So my uncle picked up the youngest fighter, raised him to as high as his face, and kept him hanging with his head down. "Now who is the brave cowboy?" People were laughing, and the whole thing became a farce.
E: Why was the woman's son in trouble?
I: He was the "brave cowboy" who started insulting some village people by calling them stupid and ignorant.
E: Who likes that? Of course, he should be taught a lesson. But what lesson do we learn from this story?
I: I was proud of my uncle, and wanted to tell all the details about the episode before supper. But my mother was not interested at all, my father asked how school was, and my grandma urged me to wash my hands and come fast to the table, where the supper was forthcoming. I refused to eat!
E: Your feelings were hurt because your family did not care about "every word that was coming out of your mouth."
I: Again, a very precise observation.
E: You lost your appetite because they did not trust you, and perhaps because they did not love your uncle in the same way you loved him.
I: So I went to bed angry, bitter, and soon very hungry.
E: The appetite came, nevertheless.
I: They came one after another and begged me to come and eat my beloved noodles with cottage cheese, poppy seeds, and nuts. I turned back and said, "No!"
E: Obviously you were more spiritual already at that time. But you had sacrificed a lot, I can imagine.
I: After the sixth of their "enticements," and my sixth "no," I decided that if they came for the seventh time, I would forgive them and stop punishing them by my hunger.
E: Did they come?
E: What a sad "no"! So you went to sleep hungry, and angry at yourself. No wonder you remember the story!
I: I am glad that I found it useful for our sermon.
E: Now what is a theological implication--and does it have a spiritual sense?
I: Let us try. The Lord answered the tempter by quoting Moses about the bread being not sufficient for human life.
E: The Lord was very hungry after fasting for such a long time. Was he really without food and water for forty days?
I: In spiritual sense--as Swedenborg found out--this episode stands for all the temptations Jesus experienced from his tiny infancy until his death on the cross. Forty means the whole duration, and the desert represents the state of spirituality in the church.
E: There was no spirituality, no hunger for truth, no affection for God's words.
I: Nobody wanted to listen to the eternal story of God's love.
E: Now I can see why you were unhappy--and also why Jesus wept.
I: Yet all people may be alive if they listen and digest every word that comes from the mouth of God. For our physical survival, we need not only proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, but all kinds of minerals and vitamins--and tender loving care with kindness in our eyes, hands, and lips. And spices, of course!
E: And gratitude, with humility and prayerful adoration.
I: Let us close with the words of Psalm 103, verses 1-5:
E: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits--who forgives all your sins, and heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from the pit, and crowns you with steadfast love and mercy; who satisfies you with goodness as long as you live, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's."
Dear Lord, our souls bless you and praise your holy name for all of your benefits, and all of your tender mercies toward us. You teach us that we cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from your mouth. You help us to see that it is not food or drink or house or possessions that satisfy, but love and understanding, mutual concern and kindness. You renew our spirits, whatever our outward circumstances. Praise be to you! Amen.
Rev. Ivan Franklin