A few years ago, someone asked me this: “Father, priests don’t worry about material things, right?” I knew that whatever answer I were to give would be complicated. If I said “yes,” the person may think that priests are materialistic people; and If I said “no,” the person may wonder why the Vatican seems to have so many things, so much wealth. Actually, Jesus gave the answer long ago: “Not by bread alone. . .”
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness, being tempted there by the devil for forty days. During that time, he ate nothing and at the end he was hungry. Then the devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf.’ But Jesus replied, ‘Scripture says: One does not live on bread alone.’
The first temptation of Jesus is the desire to have material things. It is a desire that we all have, even the desire for things that we may consider necessities, as bread was for Jesus, for at that moment he was a hungry man in the desert. The problem is not that everyone needs food, but the urgency of the need is the real temptation. That one desire at that specific moment takes Jesus away from what he is doing.
The same may happen to us at different times in our lives. When we are praying we may believe that we need to be in another place, so that we can help others. Or when the moment to act arrives we feel a sudden urge to pray. We are caught up in doing a good thing, but not the one we are supposed to do at that precise time.
But there is something more in Jesus’ answer, “A person cannot live on bread alone.” This is a reminder for us. Jesus does not deny our needs; rather, he reminds us that we may neglect or even forget other concerns because we are so focused on material things. The expression “not only…” affirms the need and the goodness of material things; it is also a statement that in order to live we need more.
Sometimes, we pay too much attention on the material world. The scripture says that “one does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD” (Dt 8:3). We also need to listen to God, for His word is food for the soul. And if we bring to life the word that we hear, then the Bible does for the soul what bread does for the body: it nourishes.
In this context, in today’s second reading, Saint Paul reminded the Christians in Rome in the same way that the book of the Deuteronomy reminded the people of Israel about what was important, to remember who they are: ”The word is very near to you, it is on your lips and in your heart.”
Our whole existence is not just for bread alone. Our call goes beyond to the spiritual world in which God is found always and in finding Him we receive life.