Anyone who has taken a management or psychology course has heard of Abraham Maslow. He was an American psychologist working in the early part of the last century. And it was his thinking that we all have certain priorities in our lives including survival, safety and fulfilment. But most importantly, he suggested they did not have equal weight.
Indeed, not surprisingly physical needs such as food and water take precedence over education, recreation and even relationships.
However, late in life, Maslow added another tier to his famous pyramid. He added transcendence. He added the dimension of spirituality. He added the living of life in God. For him then the peak of human aspirations was infinity.
Yet, as always, there is nothing new under the Sun. Since Maslow’s rules was exactly was Jesus was on about in today’s lesson. Almost with exasperation, he points out to his disciples that the people’s interest was not in his spiritual teaching but in Christ’s ability to fill their stomachs. But the problem was the crowd then doomed themselves to enduring mere existence. They would never move upwards to life in all its fullness, life eternal and life infinite.
But, if giving priority to the higher things in life is so beneficial, why do we not hunger for them?
This question is the more perplexing when we look around much of the western world and know that many people’s basic needs are not just met but well met.
Well the answer to that knotty question is also given by Jesus. Since, to climb upwards is always hard work. It is easier therefore to stay on the flat. Easier by far to be a spiritual couch potato. Easiest of all to keep eyes lowered for more physical goodies and never aspire to the mountain tops. And so, we miss as Maslow suggested the “peak experiences” of one’s human potential and development.
How then do we master the route to the high points of what out lives can offer? Are there, for example, any tips or clues?
Recently, I read the old story about a little boy who was out helping his father in the back garden. His dad asked him to pick up the stones. Sometime later, the man looked over and saw his son struggling to pull up a huge rock buried in the ground. The little boy struggled and struggled while his dad watched. Finally, the boy gave up and said, “I can’t do it.” His father asked, “Did you use all of your strength?” The little boy looked hurt and said, “Yes, I did! I used every ounce of strength I have.” His daddy smiled and said, “No you didn’t. You didn’t ask me to help.” The father walked over and then the two of them pulled up the boulder.
Well any trainer of physical exercise will tell you to start small and work up. If you set out on a mini-marathon without preparation, you will fall flat on your face – possibly literally. But short periods of effort build strength and resilience. Little steps build into bigger leaps. Or in scots – many a mickle mak’s a muckle.
That’s why Jesus advises the daily workout of believing in him. Since he proposes we feed ourselves spiritually by looking to him to help us forward. Moreover, he appoints himself as our instructor to train us with increasing intensity to not just look up but to ascend towards what we as humans are capable. Because in doing the work of believing in him we are asking for his strength to move the unmovable namely ourselves.
Perhaps, however, these aspirations to the heights still seems not worth the effort. And so, we think – we’ll do it tomorrow.
But there are dangers of not aspiring with the help of Christ to the peaks of human fulfilment. Maslow also realised this when he asked how can we understand the problem of evil?”
For, being Jewish, he knew violent anti-Semitism growing up in New York. More poignantly, he expressed his theories during the 40’s at the very time of the Holocaust. No wonder, he mused on evil not as a concept but as a horrific reality.
Since the hard truth is when we focus on our own needs, we become self-centred. In time, this inner perspective turns to selfishness and egotism even xenophobia. And these are keys that others can turn to open the door to the worst aspects of human thinking and inhumane action. Keys that many across this nation and on the world stage, are eagerly welding with incalculable results.
On the other hand, Maslow went on to explain that when we seek the high ground of genuine fulfilment through things divine, earth binding concerns lessen. When we ask Christ for help, we can become part of the infinite nature of God. When we do the work of believing wholehearted in Jesus, we are actually doing the work in believing in ourselves. Then and only then, do we indeed show one of the greatest qualities of self-actualisation – we enjoy the journey, not just the destination.
Now there is food for thought!