Some of the earliest thinkers of the church, especially Augustine, thought that sin originated from a thing called concupiscence – which is really just a fancy word for lust. Not simply sexual lust but a deep desire for other things as well.
The readings today situate us firmly in stories which raise the conundrum and paradox of concupiscence in the context of abundance and scarcity.
I want to look particularly at the story of King David and his dalliance with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, but also to draw in that familiar story of the feeding of the 5000.
There are those who have painted the story of David and Bathsheba as a love story but for me it is a baser thing – it is a crude and cruel act in which a King causes a woman to commit adultery and arranges the death of her husband.
One of the things which strikes me about the story is what we are not told going into the story. If we go back a little further in the book of Samuel we find that David has at least 8 wives as well concubines. He has more than enough or maybe he has too much?
Despite all of the possible relationships David can enter into validly he chooses another avenue – he is not satisfied, he continues to lust.
Now whilst David’s lust was sexually orientated concupiscence is a broader issue and in David’s case it appears that abundance does not necessarily deal with the problem and this seems hold true in other settings as well.
Let me demonstrate in a different way.
(Give out Snickers bars)
Most of you will recognise these as Snickers bars and most of you being indoctrinated by the world of advertising will know the slogan Snickers really satisfy.
Given the context of the sermon today we could be tempted to think that we hold the answer to the problem of concupiscence in our very hands.
Sorry to disappoint you, I have already done the research on this one when I preached a similar sermon a few years ago.
During my research for that sermon I wanted to know the answer to the question ‘Do snickers really satisfy?’ As anyone does these days when they have a useless question like this and a computer I Googled the answer.
I was surprised by the number of sites that came up but one that stuck me had a comparison chart with how big a Snickers bar needed to be to satisfy.
The chart said that a starving person from Africa would only need Snickers about 2cm long; maybe about this size. Then the chart said that a catwalk model might only need Snickers this big to satisfy (smaller again). Then it said somebody who was a computer programmer might need just regular sized Snickers. Then it said someone who was an American might need an even bigger Snickers – a king size Snickers bar.
Do you notice something interesting here about Snickers bars? The people who probably need it the least need the biggest one to be satisfied. This is something that is not restricted to Snickers bars.
Whilst it may seem a trite example when we think about it the more people have the more they seem to want, ironically even when it may not need lead them to feeling any happier or more satisfied.
At National Assembly of the Uniting Church one of our guest speakers was Richard Denniss, the co-author of Affluenza with Clive Hamilton.
During his talk he spoke of the issues we face as human beings and then pointed out with a sense of good humour the kinds of problems we have devoted our time to. We have solved the problem of 12 year olds not having mobile phones, we have dealt with the embarrassing curve on our TV screens and we have made it so that no parent will ever have to travel on a long car journey without their children being suitably entered by a TV screen.
In the face of the numerous issues we have has humanity, issues of the distribution of wealth, extreme poverty, resources shortages, overfishing, pollution and the list could go on we seem to invest a great deal in satisfying the perceived needs those who already have so much. We are still pursuing Bathsheba and planning the demise of Uriah – this is what concupiscence is all about.
In a world of scarce resources this creates huge problems and at some level dehumanises our thinking because we are so focussed on building our own wealth, me included.
The other day on the radio I heard a report that wheat prices have sky rocketed and how this is such a great thing for our Australian farmers. The reason for the price hike is some of the most severe droughts ever experienced in the United States. Because we are so focussed on the mythical beast called the economy the reaction is not concern for the farmers in America, or for the poorer countries around the world who may suffer from a deeper inability to but wheat and so feed their people – no our reaction is a celebration for our Australian farmers. But scarcity is not a good thing when the consequences are life and death, but mired in our concupiscence and desensitised language of the markets it can be turned into something we celebrate.
Let me briefly comment on where we might hope in the midst of this conundrum of our sinfulness. When the crowd was hungry, suffering from scarcity as it were, Jesus takes what little is available from a little a boy and after blessing it distributes so that all can share in what is available. Having fed the crowd we see the generosity of God expressed in the baskets of left-overs collected – there was more than enough for everyone to be fed.
Just as Jesus’ healings demonstrate God’s concern for those who are suffering in this life so too does his feeding of the crowd. God cares about our present existence and our current predicament. Jesus feeds the crowd but the abundance should not be misconstrued into any sense that by being engaged with Jesus we will be proved excess in our lives. We already know from the story of David and Bathsheba abundance does not seem to satisfy us as human beings
The scene which follows the trip on the boat in John’s gospel has the crowd turning up again on the other side of the sea and Jesus confronts them with the words “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
The food which Jesus ultimately offers is himself “the bread of life” he declares the to be satisfied in life, to truly live, to live eternally, to live abundantly, means accepting him as the Holy one of God.
No amount of bread fish, no increase in the size of our snickers bars, no addition to our number of wives and concubines appears to be able to satisfy our cravings, our concupiscence but partaking of the “bread of life” receiving Jesus can transform us as God forgives our desires and renews us in our lives.
So as we break bread together and as we make our offerings we celebrate our hope, which is Jesus himself, and pray for a release from our constant cravings in life. So, that rather than concupiscence and its consequences ruling through our reception of the true bread of life it will be on earth as it is in heaven and having received our daily bread all might have life.