David had it all. The most powerful of Israel’s kings, he unified the two kingdoms, he subdued all of Israel’s enemies, he was beloved by his people, and anointed by God. David had wealth, success, immense power, and over the course of his life at least 8 wives. But he couldn’t keep his hands off Bathsheba. Our lesson this morning from 2nd Samuel is perhaps the definition of the phrase – “abuse of power.” David simply takes what he wants and destroys a family in the process. He is blinded by his own ego, his sense of entitlement, and his pride. Not only is he willing to take another man’s wife, but King David is willing to have Bathsheba’s husband killed to cover his tracks. David had it all – but he wanted more.
In our gospel for this morning, Jesus feels compelled to make sure that the crowds who follow him have enough to eat. His reputation as a healer and worker of miracles has grown and everywhere he goes scores of people accompany him. Philip, amazed that Jesus would even consider feeding so many, wants to know how they will find enough food to feed a crowd of more than 5,000. A little boy comes forward and offers up 5 loaves of bread and two dried fish. Jesus has the crowd sit down, he blesses the bread and the fish, passes it among the people and miraculously there is food for everyone. Not only that but there is enough left over to fill the equivalent of 12 lunch bags. This astounding feeding of the crowd is the only miracle to appear in all four of the gospels. Moreover in Matthew and Mark it appears twice. It is a pivotal event in Jesus ministry.
What we have this morning is a study in contrast – David with his act of hubris and a small child with his act of faith, one who takes and another who gives. David said – I should have what I want, regardless of the consequences. Jesus said – the people should have what they need, in spite of how immense that need might seem.
“You may know the story of Jean Henri Fabre, the French naturalist, and his processional caterpillars. He encountered some of these interesting creatures one day while walking in the woods. They were marching in a long unbroken line front to back, front to back. What fun it would be, Fabre thought, to make a complete ring with these worms and let them march in a circle. So, Fabre captured enough caterpillars to encircle the rim of a flowerpot. He linked them nose to posterior and started them walking in the closed circle. For days they turned like a perpetual merry-go-round. Although food was near at hand and accessible, the caterpillars starved to death on an endless march to nowhere.”1
King David had everything and yet he wanted more. He saw Bathsheba and he wanted her – so he took her. This man who had accomplished so much was like Fabre’s caterpillars, he was on a march to nowhere, chasing his own tail, spiritually starving to death in his endless quest to satisfy his own wants, his own desires. That seems to be the story of many people today. They are on a march that leads to nowhere. They have a deep hunger but keep looking in all the wrong places to satisfy that hunger. They yearn to be filled and like David they think if they can only have what they want then they will find what they need. But what we want and what we need are often two very different things. ‘Just give me a couple of drinks and I’ll feel better. If I treat myself to a hot-fudge-sundae, then I will be satisfied. If I can just get that dress, that car, that house, then I can fill this longing inside me.’ We look to satisfy our hungers in all the wrong places and as a result we end up chasing our tails until we starve to death.
We need to stop for a moment, and sit down in the presence of Jesus. Then we need to receive what Christ has to offer us, just as the multitude received the loaves and fish. What does our gospel teach us? Among other things it says that fulfilling our deepest needs has more to do with giving then it does with getting. That young boy offered up the little food he had and as a result miracles took place. Instead of hoarding it, he gave it to Jesus and as a consequence he was fed and satisfied and so were a lot of other people. David, on the other hand, could only take. His wants superceded everything else. As a result, disaster and the destruction of lives were inevitable.
Perhaps the biggest lesson one can learn on the spiritual journey is the truth that the deepest meaning in life comes not from getting but from giving. Taking what we want will rarely give us what we need. Rather it is through giving what we have that we find we actually get what we need. And what Jesus wants us to know this morning is that by offering up the little we have miracles can happen. That’s the lesson this little boy teaches us.
“Sigmund Freud was convinced that of all the hungers and desires that motivate and drive us through life, the desire for pleasure, especially sexual pleasure, is the dominant one. There is a lot of evidence to support his view. …The drive toward pleasure is powerful. Alfred Adler, another Austrian psychologist, did not deny that longing for pleasure is definitely one of the motivations of human behavior; however, he was convinced that our basic desire or hunger is for power; we want to be in control. Certainly, we all know what it is to want to be in control, and to feel not only uncomfortable but anxious, even fearful, when we are not. … However, the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, because of his experiences in a Nazi death camp, disagreed. He did not deny our human desire for pleasure and our longing to be in control. But when both of these were totally taken away in his experience in Auschwitz, he became convinced that the basic human hunger or the deepest drive within us is our deep longing for meaning and purpose. We want life and our lives to matter.”2
Did you know that there are now more people on anti-depressants than at any other time? We are the most unfulfilled generation that has ever existed. We hunger and we hurt and we try anything we can to make ourselves feel better. Perhaps what we really need is a little bit of the faith of that young boy. The faith of a child that says I can make a difference with the little that I have if only I have the courage to offer it. A faith that says my life has more meaning than just what I can get for myself. My giving makes a difference even if it is only 5 loaves and 2 small fish. Maybe what we need is a little bit of faith in Jesus that he can take what we offer and do wonderful things. Maybe the way to satisfy our deepest needs and desires has less to do with what we can get for ourselves and everything to do with what we can give to others. Amen.
1. Duncan King, Collected Sermons.
2.James L. Mayfield, For What Are We Hungry?