Summary: Maslow claims that our physical needs for food, water etc. are the most basic and fundamental. But the Bible tells us that our spiritual needs are even more basic. And only Jesus, the Bread from heaven, can satisfy those needs.
[Sermon preached on 11 March 2018, 4th Sunday in Lent / 3rd year, ELCF Lectionary]
Recently, a survey was held in the US among people from all ethnic backgrounds, cultures, religions, social strata and walks of life. One of the questions they were asked was: How satisfying or fulfilling is your life? The answer was alarming: more than 70% of the respondents answered that they were rather or much dissatisfied with their lives. They felt that their lives were not really fulfilling. Life felt meaningless, without purpose.
The answer was the same among poor people and rich. It was the same among successful executives and among the unemployed and uneducated. It was the same for atheists and religious people.
In my ministry as a pastor, I often meet with people who are dissatisfied with their lives. They feel that there is something essential missing—something to meet their need for purpose, meaning, quality of life, and happiness. They are restless, seeking for something that would make them feel happy and fulfilled. But they don’t find it.
On the internet you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of discussion groups, where people complain about the emptiness of life and ask others to tell them what can change that; blogs that offer advice, personal testimonies, and expensive courses that should change your life once and for all; self-help books offering solutions—some of them the hard way, but most of them in a simple and foolproof “How to get happy and fulfilled in 10 days?” type of way.
The psychologist Abraham Maslow became famous some seventy years ago for his pyramid, representing a hierarchy of human needs. He claimed that if the most basic needs in the bottom have not been met, the needs higher up in the pyramid cannot motivate people.
On the bottom are the most basic human needs: the need for air, food, drink, shelter, warmth and sleep. These are essential for our survival. If you cannot breathe, you will hardly be motivated by a career opportunity. If you have nothing to eat or to drink, you won’t give much thought to attending a concert or an art exhibition.
Only if your most basic physiological needs have been met, your thoughts and desires will go out to secondary things like safety, love and belonging, esteem, or self-actualization. Maslow said:
“It is quite true that man lives by bread alone—when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?”
And he continues to give his answer to that question:
“At once other (and “higher”) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still “higher”) needs emerge and so on.”
The Bible disagrees with Maslow at least on one thing:
“Man does not live on bread alone.”
When Jesus was in the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, he fasted for forty days. In the end, he was very hungry, and there was no bread anywhere near. So Satan, who must have known Maslow’s hierarchy inside out, suggested that Jesus turn some of the stones into bread. And even though Jesus was very hungry—his body and mind weakened by the lack of nutrition—he refused. And he quoted the words from Deuteronomy 8:3:
“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
It was this latter bread—the word of God—that Jesus offered the crowds who were following him everywhere. He was eager and determined to preach the good news of the kingdom of God. That was his purpose. That was driving him like a turbo engine.
But most people in the crowd were after something else. They had seen Jesus performing signs by healing the sick. So those who were sick followed him in the hope to be healed. And those who were healthy wanted to be there to witness the sensational miracles for themselves. Their lives were empty, and they felt that the entertainment that Jesus offered would fill some of the vacuum inside. Or perhaps they were more serious and needed to see the miracles as signs of the coming of the kingdom of God.
But then, when the day went by, the people felt their stomachs protest. Most of them had not been eating for many hours. And that is where—quite in line with the theory of Maslow—their empty stomachs started taking over.
I don’t go into detail about what happened next. That is stuff for another sermon or two. But Jesus fed the 5,000+ people there, and then escaped the crowd. But not for long. The next day, the crowds found out where Jesus had gone and went after him. And that is when Jesus rebuked them and said: