September 09, 2018
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
What does it mean to call a truth “self-evident”?
Questions like that, I take to Thomas Aquinas, and with a click or two, I had his answer. In the first few pages of the Summa Theologiae Aquinas asks if the truth that God exists is self-evident. The answer will be that it is to God but not to us. In the answer, he works with two different ways to hold a truth self-evident. Here is the first: “Those things are said by us to be self-evident the knowledge of which is naturally within us.”
Some do say that knowledge of God is naturally within us. Aquinas disagrees:
“It must be said that a general and confused knowledge of God’s existence is naturally infused within us, for God is our beatitude and we naturally desire beatitude. What a person naturally desires she naturally knows. This is not to know God’s existence specifically, however. . . [because] many think the perfect good of humankind, called beatitude, is wealth, some imagine it to be pleasure, and so on.”[i]
Beatitude means happiness. Striking, that our desire for happiness shows up early in both the Declaration of Independence and the Summa Theologiae. According to the Declaration, the right to pursue it is part of our endowment. Rather than “rights,” Aquinas thinks in terms of “goods.” Desire for the good of happiness is natural to us—part of our endowment. Both the source and final goal of that desire is God. The pursuit of happiness puts us on the scent of God. However, we are easily thrown off the scent by wealth, pleasure, power, etc. We are in the woods and on the hunt, but too often found barking up the wrong tree. So, by that first definition, the truth that God exists is not self-evident: close, but no cigar.
Here is the second definition, which is the one I more easily remember: “Those things are said to be self-evident the truth of which is obvious once the meaning of the words is clear.” (For example: “Liars can’t be trusted.”) With the truth that “God exists” this isn’t so. As we know, someone may know the meaning of those words and doubt their truth.
So is it the case with “All men are created equal”? I don’t see how. For that statement to be true, there must be a Creator, meaning God. If God is not self-evident, to that extent the whole statement is in question, is it not? So we can know the meaning of the words “created equal” and still doubt their truth.
[i] Thomas Aquinas, ST 1a Q2, Article 1. Objection 1 and its reply.
September 02, 2018
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Christian life is a supernatural life. When someone is a Christian, we see an observable difference in their life. It shows up. Scripture tells us that we are miraculously, though we may not feel it, new creatures in Christ. The old has passed away and behold the new has come. Our Epistle today gives us a tangible example and exhortation of how our Christian life is different and observable…or not…
In this reading today, we hear about our actions, handling our emotions, and the importance of the state of our hearts.
“Be doers of the word, not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
And a great word picture: “For if any are hearers of the word and not doers they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away immediately forget what they were like.”
The Christian life is one of response and action to all that God has done for us. As we relate to God and one another, simply put – Love is something you do.
But this is not an expectation to live up to from God…we are not saved by any works we do and cannot make God think any more of us than God already does. Salvation, like all things from God, is a gift.
James asserts: God gave us birth by the word of truth and we are to welcome this word implanted in us with meekness.
We live in the midst of profound miracle through God’s power and provision for us, but we still – still - are plagued by limitation. We sin, we fall short…and we do this, at times with great creativity.
James also asserts: if we are mere hearers of the word we “deceive ourselves” and become like one who walks away from a mirror and forgets what they looked like. James strongly says, religion lived from a deceived heart is worthless…worthless.
The word for heart in the Greek James uses will sound familiar: Kardia. Cardia. Cardio. We think of our hearts physically. However, in the Greek this is a big word conceptually and, in our context, refers to the center of our physical and spiritual life. From the New Testament Greek, Lexicon sees that this involves the mind, the will and character, and emotions or appetites and desires. Great inclusivity in its meaning.
August 26, 2018
This morning in our lectionary reading from the Hebrew Scripture, we read from a historical document—the First book of the Kings—a book said to be a holy history of a holy people, history recounted from a spiritual vantage point with a theological agenda to promote. Our particular pericope this morning involves the great King Solomon, son of David and Bathsheba, ruler of the United Kingdom, and exemplary of Israel’s leadership at the height of her worldly greatness—that being 10 centuries before the birth of Jesus.
Throughout the ages, sacred history has revered and celebrated King Solomon—most especially for an asset of character that we call wisdom, a God-given ability to discern the Spirit’s movement, a blessing of insight and perspicacity—and then for his application of that holy gift in building a temple for the worship of God right at the heart of Israel’s life. Wise King Solomon knew that the God of the Universe (whose breadth and depth never ever could be contained in an earthly vessel or quartered by human hands) must nevertheless have a name, an address, and a visible, audible, feelable, touchable, sensible, and BEAUTIFUL presence in a particular place in ordinary time and recognizable space if flesh and blood human beings like ourselves are ever to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” [Psalm 34:8]
So Solomon constructs this lavish temple; he adorns it with worldly greatness and inspirited beauty; and from its description it apparently was as awe-inspiring in its architecture and fabric as is Trinity Cathedral on Spring Street in Little Rock—the point being those beautiful buildings are very very important to us, and should never be taken for granted or thought to be excessive. Within the heart of this magnificent Temple, Solomon ensconces the Ark of the Covenant, the holiest of holy for God’s chosen, the sacred law that binds God and God’s people in a relationship. Solomon pleads with God to listen to the prayers of those who come to the temple to venerate the Law, and he even delineates for God the kinds of prayers that will undoubtedly travel from human lips to the divine ear:
Most especially prayers uttered —
by those seeking help in times of need…
by those In the clutch of transgression, begging for forgiveness…
by those in crisis because of great famine or withering drought
by those in despair when a loss is pronounced and failure colors the day…
by those living through seasons when a loss is pronounced and failure and colors the day.
even by those who are foreigners and aliens who come as curiosity-seekers hoping they might find the One who is said to live here.
August 19, 2018
Where Do We Go from Here? was the last full book by Martin Luther King, Jr. In reading him this year, one thing I have found is that his arguments are often dialectical. Start a train of thought with opposites––freedom and service, for example––then find the truth of each embedded in the other: in service is our perfect freedom. Hegel, the philosopher, was the master of that way of thinking.
In Where Do We Go from Here? Dr. King’s eye is on the plight of northern black folk trapped in urban ghettos. Having fought so hard against legal racial segregation in the south, now he is hearing calls by blacks that blacks should separate themselves from white society, to preserve their racial solidarity and protect their culture. The separatists view America as incurably hostile to blacks. Rather than American, they stand on their African identity. African or American? Those are the opposites King frames, and he writes this:
The Negro is the child of two cultures –Africa and America. The problem is that in the search for wholeness all too many Negros seek to embrace only one side of their natures. Some seeking to reject their heritage, are ashamed of their color, ashamed of black art and music, and determine what is beautiful and good by the standards of white society. They end up frustrated and without cultural roots. Others seek to reject everything American and to identify totally with Africa, even to the point of wearing African clothes. But this approach also leads to frustration because the American Negro is not an African. The old Hegelian synthesis still offers the best answer to many of life’s dilemmas. The American Negro is neither totally African nor totally Western. He is Afro-American, a true hybrid, a combination of two cultures.[i]
Faithful life is also dialectical. As Christians, we are children of two worlds. The scripture writers pair opposites to name them: time and eternity; earth and heaven; flesh and spirit; life in Adam/ life in Christ. I am not talking about church and state, or secular and sacred. I am talking about this world, this life, all of it, punctuated with a beginning and an end––and life with different punctuation.
Karl Barth called the first “the old world of Adam . . . the world of history, time, people, and things.”[ii] Barth’s words remind me of the last words of my favorite novel, All the King’s Men, when Jack and Ann, finally married, leave the gulf coast:
We shall come back, no doubt, to walk down the row and watch young people on the tennis courts by the clump of mimosas and walk down the beach by the bay, where the diving floats lift gently in the sun, and on out to the pine grove, where the needles thick on the ground will deaden the footfall so that we shall move among trees as soundlessly as smoke. But that will be a long time from now, and soon we shall go out of the house and go into the convulsion of the world, out of history into history and the awful responsibility of time.[iii]
[i] Martin Luther King, Jr. Where Do We Go from Here? Kindle edition, p. 54-55.
[iii] Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men.
August 12, 2018
Not a word we hear much in our daily life these days…another related word we think about more – character. Character being in simplicity the habits of our lives.
Integrity is related. Integrity has to do with the quality of our behavior. C. S. Lewis in his essay “Men without Chests” gives a helpful glimpse as he criticizes development of people that is cerebral – the mind, and visceral – the appetites, but neglects the importance of the chest – that which links or tames our thinking and our appetites. Lewis calls the chest the seat of the sentiment or place of magnanimity in our lives. Magnanimity is the quality of our behavior – it is noble, generous. Lewis asserted boldly, “by intellect one is mere spirit and by one’s appetite mere animal.”
The biblical idea of integrity is wholeness - completeness, moral innocence. It has the idea of soundness of character and adherence to moral character. Often in scripture, it also is coupled with the idea of ‘walking’ in integrity. This implies the habitual manner of life as being bound with integrity.
Do you see David or Absalom in this? For both we’ve seen over the past few weeks lives lacking integrity. In the language of C. S. Lewis, David, and Absalom were literally “men without chests” - making choice out of appetites – lust, violence, selfish ambition, anger, greed.
Let me sum up – because we’ve missed a few headlines in our Sunday propers:
David had many children – 20 are named in scripture – and David had many partners. There was struggle relationally among the four oldest – all from different mothers – for Absalom, 2nd in line for succession, this was personal between him and Amnon, 1st in line for succession.
August 05, 2018
King David’s appetite got the better of him. What he wanted was good, but not for him.
July 15, 2018
John the Baptist was jailed for objecting to a marriage—King Herod’s to his brother’s former wife. That could make an interesting debate. Resolved: marrying one’s sister-in-law is morally permissible. John took the negative, basing his argument on his read of Mosaic law.
Debate is on my mind because this afternoon I leave for SUMMA, where we use debate to teach thoughtful faith to high school students.
John’s story resembles Sir Thomas More’s, the High Chancellor of England who was jailed for objecting to King Henry VIII’s divorce and remarriage to Ann Boleyn. The resemblance is that John and Thomas both took brave stands against royal weddings and both were killed for it. Ironically, on our debated question, John and Thomas were opponents. Sir Thomas had taken the affirmative, based on his understanding of the authority of popes.
Henry VIII had married his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon. The pope had blessed the union. Unfortunately, Henry and Catherine were unable to produce a male heir, raising fears on Henry’s part that his death might precipitate a civil war in England. With no consensus about his daughter Mary’s right to ascend the throne, that was a legitimate concern, as fans of Game of Thrones will readily appreciate.
So, in our debate, Henry had switched sides, arguing first that his marriage to Catherine was lawful and valid in the eyes of God, and then contending that it wasn’t. Henry offered the fact that he and Catherine had failed to generate a prince as evidence—a clear sign of the Almighty’s disapproval of their union. The Pope did not accept this argument. The marriage was valid, he judged, and that’s what led to the Church of England’s break with Rome. Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, denying the Pope’s authority to make decisions for the church in England because the church in every nation should be able to make such decisions for itself. After all, it was England’s peace that was at stake, not Rome’s. Under the new law, English government officials were required to take an oath consenting to this change. Thomas More, England’s highest legal officer, and a loyal Catholic refused. For this, he, like John, was beheaded--literally.
SUMMA was started to stop faith’s beheading, metaphorically.
Separation of thought from faith is what I mean. For faith, it can be fatal and it almost was for the faith of the man I’ve been studying this year, Martin Luther King.
Dr. King had grown up in a thriving church, Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta, where his Daddy was the pastor. He loved church, but King was smart and began to worry about how his learning from school squared up with what he heard in church on Sunday morning. When he got to Morehouse College his doubts intensified. Using an analogy to slavery, his mind felt chained. Then came emancipation.
July 08, 2018
In our Gospel this morning, we have two very different state of affairs. The first results in NO life-giving power. The second results in EXTRAORDINARY life-giving power. Both situations are important to our understanding of the Gospel. So, we are going to think through them both--by starting in the middle.
Jesus sends the twelve disciples out on a journey to share his message with folks in other communities. He sends them out in pairs but tells them to take nothing except a staff and a pair of sandals.
Two things came to mind as I read Jesus’ instructions:
About a month ago, I caught a glimpse of a news clip on ABC: some popular televangelist said he needed a $54 million jet, so he could spread the gospel.
Secondly, I remembered a cartoon that a friend gave to me eight years ago. I still have it. It depicts Moses standing midway on Mt. Sinai with his staff in hand, speaking to the smoking mountaintop. Moses says, “I’m just saying if you had told me we’d be wandering in the desert for 40 years, I would have brought my comfortable shoes.”
A Falcon Jet and comfortable shoes ------------------------ a staff and sandals
But, we have something the first disciples didn’t have: we have experienced the faithfulness of God through Christ crucified and Christ risen. So, with this experience in mind, it should give us pause to be more understanding of the folks in Jesus’ hometown. I can easily put myself into their shoes. Actually, I have been in their shoes. Perhaps you have, too. Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus is saying in the synagogue—only that folks who heard it were “astounded” by what they heard. “Astounded”—they were shocked, surprised, filled with wonder, stunned, shaken—perhaps shaken to their core.
The Gospel tells us these hometown folks first recognized the wisdom and power in Jesus’ words, but then something happened to suck ALL the power right out of the moment. They chose to turn away, to deny the wisdom they had heard—perhaps out of fear of change, perhaps out of stubbornness to hang onto their own expectations, perhaps out of self-doubts, perhaps not having the courage to step into a path they didn’t fully understand. Perhaps it was the power of standing in this new kind of presence that was just too overwhelming at that moment—felt too new, too strong, too soon.
What is clear though, is the faithfulness of Jesus reaching out to the hometown folks, and they do NOT reach back.
July 01, 2018
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
C.S. Lewis said those words, which are written on the floor in the poet’s corner of Westminster Abbey. We visited there on our recent trip to England, finding Lewis’s memorial next to markers for Tennyson, Dylan Thomas, and T.S. Eliot. On another day of our trip, we spent time at St. Paul’s Cathedral. In this morning’s Epistle, Paul appeals to Christians in Corinth, who are relatively rich, for financial support for Christians in Jerusalem, who had fallen on hard times. Christ is the sun and Paul asks the Corinthians to consider his appeal by that light.
For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes, he became poor so that by his poverty you might become rich.
With this analogy, Paul captures in one sentence two dimensions of what Bishop Curry so famously called the Jesus movement in his Royal Wedding homily. The dimensions are vertical and horizontal. Vertically, eternally, Jesus is God’s movement down into a world fallen on hard times, sharing and spreading riches of divinity––grace, forgiveness, wisdom, healing, immortality. As Karl Barth describes it, God saw the world in need and didn’t pass us by like the priest and the Levite had passed by the man who had fallen among thieves on the road to Jericho. He sent his own beloved son to share our plight and lift our load. God descends so that humanity can rise: that is the Jesus movement in its vertical dimension.
Historically, it was the start of something. Christ came not as a tourist but a king, not only to feed but to show us how to fish, not only to share our plight but also to change it. Those changes are the Jesus movement on its horizontal axis.
So. Like the downburst from a summer thundercloud, love comes down and when it hits the ground spreads out in all directions.
Other stops on our trip included Blenheim Palace, where Winston Churchill was born, and Highgate Cemetery, where Karl Marx was buried. One of Marx’s mottos was: “From each according to his ability, to each according to her need.” That sounds like Paul, but the resemblance was short lived because Marx viewed the world by a different light, working toward a different end, by means hostile to faith and opposite to freedom.
Churchill’s father was the Duke of Marlboro. The first Duke of Marlboro had saved England from a French invasion at the Battle of Blenheim on August 13, 1704. Churchill was raised in the palace on that battlefield, a formative environment for a boy who would grow up and go to war to save the world from tyranny. He was born and ready for the role. Winston imparted fortitude to a people who had fallen on hard times, he according to his great ability and they according to their desperate need.
June 10, 2018
Note: In approaching this Sunday, after a week in which we suffered three deaths in our community, with two funerals here this week, I expected that finding the time for preparing a sermon would a problem. Then I saw that the readings included the text from 2nd Corinthians I drew from for a funeral, for Sandy Magness, last month. While the funeral sermon was specific for Sandy, it applies I hope to everyone. So here is a sermon for you, in memory of Sandy.
I just think about the splendors of the world and multiply by two. [i]
That was the Rev. Robert Boughton speaking about heaven in Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead.
Sandra Wyatt Magness (“Sandy”) died just after midnight Monday morning, April 30, 2018 A.D. She was born March 18, 1942, about three months after Pearl Harbor. When her parents had talked about adding to their family they would have known that war probably was coming and didn’t let it stop them. In war, even world war, life goes on.
Sandy lived for seventy-six years and six weeks. According to scripture, “the years of our life are threescore and ten,” which means seventy years even.”[ii] Back then, that seemed like a full glass. Now, most people would consider it a stingy pour. At the age of sixty-three, I’m beginning to appreciate their point.
We tap the glass, look up and say to the server: “If it is not asking too much, could you top me off?” Usually, now the server answers yes and fills the class up to the brim until it is running over. Sometimes a little cork or detritus from the bottom of the bottle is mixed in, that doesn’t taste so good. In asking for a top-off, that gives us something to consider. But even with the cork and detritus, most of us would gladly choose those extra years.
Thomas Aquinas would say this choice is natural. In a section of writing titled “Human Life as a Journey to God,” Aquinas wrote that just as we naturally desire the good things we have in life to last, we also wish life itself to last. “We shrink from death,” is how he put it.[iii] That’s our instinct: if three score years and ten is good, four score years is better, and better yet would be that many years plus five or ten. Through all our years that instinct guides us through life reliably, like the needle on a compass pointing towards magnetic north. It is a compliment to God. It is giving life its due.
Sandy’s compass was working just fine when we last talked, which was six days before she died. Realistically, she faced the fact that for her the end was near, but she didn’t mind saying that she’d prefer to live a little longer if she could. She was of “sound mind,” in other words.
King David’s appetite got the better of him. What he wanted was good, but not for him.
In the Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas affirms that love was God’s reason for the making of the world and that his goodness permeates creation—but in pieces, disassembled like a jigsaw puzzle. He writes: “The perfect goodness that exists one and unbroken in God can exist in creatures only in a multitude of fragmented ways.”
So David was drawn to a fragmentary good. His desire was one that we instinctively appreciate, because without it none of us would be here, but the wrongness of his acting on it was severe. Our appetites cause trouble when we are heedless of the good of others, and the puzzle as a whole.
What is love? “Willing the good” of another person, according to Aquinas. David’s motive wouldn’t count as love. He wanted Bathsheba for himself. Perhaps her feelings were reciprocal, but David left her husband’s good, his kingdom’s good, and other puzzle pieces, neglected on the floor. Inconveniently, a pregnancy occurred. Plan A was to give Uriah, the husband, grounds to believe he was the father. When that plan failed the king successfully arranged to have him killed in battle.
Evil, according to Aquinas, is a corruption of the good. “Power tends to corrupt,” as Lord Acton warned, and in this story we see why. Only a king could be tempted to sin like David did, because it would take a king to pull it off. David’s failure is common to men in high places, shadowing the lives and times of several of our recent presidents and even Martin Luther King. Like kings and presidents, prophets are susceptible.
When I started SUMMA, the high school theological debate camp, I named it partly for the Summa Theologiae––“the Summa,” for short. SUMMA, the camp, highlights faith’s intellectual dimension. According to the Summa, the book, our intellect is like an appetite. As David’s eye was attracted to the beauty of Bathsheba, our mind’s eye is drawn to truth. We call this attraction “reason.” Aquinas writes; “As the good denotes that towards which the appetite tends, so the true denotes that towards which the intellect tends.”
If truth is the sun, sometimes our sight of it is fogged by other appetites. David had broken three of the ten commandments (the sixth, seventh, and tenth, if you are keeping score) but he was oblivious. Nathan the prophet found a way to lift the fog. Lawyer-like, he caught the king’s attention with the case of a poor, honest sharecropper and his beloved lamb. David’s first job had been tending sheep, so he could relate. A selfish plantation owner took the poor man’s lamb to feed his party guests. The king was livid. “Is this for real?” “For real.” David’s appetite for justice burned. “That Simon Legree will pay!” he swore. Coming from a king that was a verdict, not an empty threat. Nathan had him. He drew out his mirror and held it to the king’s face. Look close, he said. You are that man. “The moment of truth.”
“We must no longer be children,” Paul writes to the Ephesians. “We must grow up,” he says, by “speaking the truth in love.” At SUMMA, the camp, the highest honor, “the SUMMA Prize,” is awarded to the camper who best shows us how that’s done. The prize is one thousand dollars. That is one way to make our point that truth and love are intertwined.
Often, finding truth takes expertise: science, logic, math. Aquinas’s expertise was logic and it took him years to learn. Not everyone would have the skill even if they afford the time. By God’s design, love requires no expertise. Everyone can understand and anyone can do it if they will. “It is evident,” Aquinas writes, “that not all are able to labor at learning and for that reason Christ has given a short law. Everyone can know this law and no one may be excused from observing it based on ignorance. This is the law of divine love.”
For a counterpoint, Franklin Roosevelt once compared our nation’s moral progress to our scientific progress unfavorably, which might suggest that finding truth is easier than loving. According to Jon Meacham, Roosevelt had drafted a speech to give on Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, April 13. This was 1945. The speech was discovered on Roosevelt’s desk in Warm Springs, Georgia, April 12, the day he died. This is FDR:
Today, science has brought all the different quarters of the globe so close together that it is impossible to isolate them one from another . . . Today we are faced with the preeminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships—the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together in the same world, at peace. . . . Let us move forward with strong and active faith.
That’s from Meacham’s book The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels. From 1776 to now, the book tracks our national ups and downs in answering to what what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” Meacham wrote the book because he thinks we need to listen much more closely to those better angels now. Who could disagree?
Aquinas and Roosevelt were both right. Aquinas, because only an Isaac Newton could discover calculus; and Roosevelt because, once discovered, truth is ours to keep. Libraries are full of it. Love is more like breakfast—we have to make it every morning. Aquinas called theology the “Queen of Sciences” because it's the science that has to reckon with both the library and the kitchen.
SUMMA, the camp, is a crash course in truth detection. I tell the students: “I didn’t bring you here to tell you what to think, but to show you how.” They learn the three parts of an argument: claim, evidence, and warrant. Claim: ‘What are you trying to get me to believe?’ Evidence: ‘What are you giving me to go on?’ Warrant: ‘How does the evidence support the claim?’
For example, claim: I say “Tomorrow it will rain.” Evidence: You ask “Why should I believe that?” I answer: “Open the window and take a whiff.” You open the window. “Oh,” you say, “the paper mill.” Warrant: By what logic does this smell support my claim? It’s called an “inference from sign.” Does the Pine Bluff Paper Mill cause rain? No, but it lets us know the wind is from the south, and southern winds bring moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. Summer heat means afternoon convection: hot air rising from the earth. Add moisture and boom! Summer thunderstorms.
In one sentence in our gospel reading, Jesus makes two claims: (1) God sent me. (2) Faith in me is a sign of God’s activity in the heart and mind of the believer. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent,” he says. Again: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Smartly, people ask Jesus for evidence to support these claims. Moses gave us evidence, they remind him, out there in the wilderness. Our ancestors were hungry and thirsty. Miraculously, he gave them manna for bread and water from a boulder. So show us. “What sign are you going to give us that we may see it and believe in you?”
For John, the gospel writer, this question is like a student’s who had dozed off in class. It is summer school, the air conditioning is out and the windows are open. The air is hot, moist, and heavy with that familiar smell. The boy wakes up and asks the teacher to answer something she had just explained in detail: “So why should we believe that it will rain tomorrow?”
Jesus’ questioners had been dozing. In John’s gospel, signs followed everywhere he went. In Cana, he turned water into wine. In Capernaum, he healed a dying child; in Jerusalem, it was a sick old man too weak to walk. The latest sign had been the most spectacular so far, and these people who were asking for a sign had either seen or heard about it. From five loaves and two fish, five thousand hungry appetites were satisfied. In a fog, these interrogators fail to draw the inference from sign.
Jesus backs up and tries another tack. With Moses still in mind, he offers an analogy. Analogies are warrants that work by comparison. “This is like that.” You know what its like to hungry and be given bread? They nod, still digesting loaves that he had given. I am like that he says. “Those who come to me will never hunger and those who believe in me will never thirst,” he promises. He isn’t talking now about digestion, but about that activity of God in human hearts and minds––also called the Holy Spirit.
By this, he puts us on watch for good that answers to a longing deeper than hunger even, and more thrilling even than that dizzy dancing feeling that draws us to each other sometimes. Powerful and necessary though they are, these appetites, they point to only fragments of the good we need as human beings. We are made for more.
We don’t need faith to know this. Aristotle knew it. Reason, he taught, is like an appetite for good things greater than our emotional enjoyment and even our physical survival.
We do not live by bread alone. Reason shows us that much. Faith, hope, love—the activity of God in the minds and hearts of all believers––now show us more: eternal truth, everlasting goodness, and transcendent beauty. They are like coffee, eggs, and bacon cooking in the kitchen early in the morning, smells wafting up the stairs into the bedroom as we’re dressing, getting ready for the day.