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Isaiah 55:1-4; Matthew 4:1-4 CEB
At a crucial moment in the film 101 Dalmatians, Pongo and Perdita and their 15 Dalmatian puppies are all watching TV, waiting for the right moment to escape from the wicked Cruella DeVil. One of the puppies, Rolly, despite being captivated by the film, says, ‘I'm hungry, Mother. I'm hungry.’ Perdita, ‘Now Rolly, you’ve just had your dinner.’ Rolly insists, ‘But I am, just the same. I'm so hungry I could eat a… a whole elephant.’
There’s two kinds of hunger. There’s a hunger that has a name. It’s a hunger where you know what you want, but you haven’t got it or can’t have it: when you interviewed for a job, and you can’t understand why they didn’t hire you. Or when you long with all your heart to have a baby, but it’s not happening; where you’re dying for something to eat, but the cupboard’s bare.
But then again that second hunger, when you just want something, something in your life to go right for a change, but people keep letting you down. Such hunger can become all-consuming, transforming your temper, your relationships, your patience, your clarity of thought, your whole character. We are what we eat, some say. But we’re also capable of becoming contorted into the shape of what we hunger for.
But there’s another kind of hunger. It’s a hunger that lingers deep, disturbingly, in the bottom of your soul, but it doesn’t have a name. There’s no simple solution to it, no hot meal or job title that will satisfy it.
The Irish band U2 sang with longing, ‘I have climbed the highest mountains, I have run through the fields, only to be with you; I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls, only to be with you: But I still haven't found, What I'm looking for.’
The hunger that doesn’t have a name, the restless, yearning, aching, gnawing, longing hunger that knows when it hasn’t found what it’s looking for, that knows when it’s got no satisfaction.
We all know of moments where we have devoured a meal when feeling faint and beginning to shake with a longing for food. Maybe some of our youth who experienced 30 hours of not eating can relate to that.
But the second kind of hunger – that’s more difficult. How do you describe what it feels like to realize you still haven’t found what you’re looking for?
In Matthew 4 Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread. But I think he knows that this will only speak to tummy hunger and never deal with the second kind of hunger that gnaws away at our souls from time to time. Jesus says we don’t live by the first kind of satisfaction for it never solves the deeper riddle of hunger. Isaiah chapter 55 is precisely about these two kinds of hunger, and the difference between them.
For 50 years in Babylonian exile, Israel was focused on the first kind of hunger – quite simply, ‘I want to go home.’ Everything that was wrong was crystallized in one simple fact – Israel was a thousand miles from the Promised Land. So returning home they reasoned was the answer to their dream.
But Isaiah chapter 55 marks a transition into Lent. Because Israel did go home from Babylon. Israel did return to the Promised Land. Jerusalem was restored, the Temple rebuilt, the walls raised again. But when all that was done, Israel was still hungry. ‘I'm hungry, Mother. I'm hungry.’ ‘Now Israel, you’ve just had your dinner.’ ‘But I am, just the same. I'm so hungry I could eat a… a whole elephant.’
It turned out going home wasn’t all that Israel was hungry for. ‘Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?’ These are the resonant words of Isaiah to Israel. It’s a question that points out the difference between the hunger that has a name and the hunger that doesn’t have a name.
We often think of practical Christianity as striving to meet people’s hunger – the hunger that has a name. But like the U2, song lyrics we want and need more than that. Almost always, what we want is something no one else can give. If we assume someone can give it to them, folks leave themselves open to manipulation of the worst kind.
Christianity isn’t simply about satisfying people’s hunger. It’s a huge gamble on the hunch that what people are really hungry for is something they don’t know the name of, and wouldn’t initially recognize even when they found it. And what is that mysterious discovery, that extraordinary food? It’s the wondrous truth that there’s something even deeper, even more long-lasting, and even more insatiable than our hunger.
And that’s God’s hunger for us. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways,” we’re told in Isaiah chapter 55. God’s hunger is greater than ours. But God knows what that hunger is for. It’s for you and me. It’s a realization that together we can make something beautiful we could never make alone, that there’s a place for all shapes and voices and energies in a song that takes all our energies to make but comes from a force much bigger than us.
Bigger than a whole elephant. Are you hungry? Does your hunger have a name, like a yearning for a job or a partner or a home or new start? Or is your hunger deeper and more insatiable than that, something that even gaining those precious things won’t assuage? ‘Listen carefully to me,’ says Isaiah, ‘and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.’ ‘Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.’
It’s free but not cheap – it’s priceless but for everybody. If you’re hungry – deeply, deeply hungry, hear the good news, the news that you’ve been waiting all this time for: God’s hungry. Hungry for you.
Sunday, March 5, 2017