You are what you eat
"Give us vegetables to eat and water to drink.
Then see how we look
in comparison with the other young men...."
(He) tested them for ten days;
after ten days they looked healthier and better fed
than any of the young men...
They also tested ten times better on intelligence tests.
How much would you spend for a diet like that?
But wait! There’s more!
Indeed, there is more to this story, for the issue was not really meat versus vegetables, but rather the provender of God versus the provender of the world.
Sometimes it seems as if we are living inside one long infomercial: one way or another, we are besieged constantly by messages – via mass media or peer pressure, subtly or overtly – that what the world has to offer us will make us happy and solve all our problems.
I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they suffer no pain;
their bodies are healthy and sleek.
They are free of the burdens of life;
they are not afflicted like others.
Of course, we know that the comfort and pleasures of this world bind us to this world, leaving us at the end of our lives empty-handed -- and worse.
You set them, indeed, on a slippery road;
you hurl them down to ruin.
How suddenly they are devastated;
undone by disasters forever!
But it isn't just a matter of what happens at the end of everything: today’s first reading indicates that we may benefit in many ways here and now by turning away from what the world offers and focusing on what God offers.
Daniel and his companions, held captive in what is now Iraq, look healthier and think more wisely than the elites who have filled themselves from the king’s table. Again, this was not because of any inherent properties of the food itself (although vegetables are good for you), but because they were obeying the will of God.
What the world offers tastes great but is less filling. Materialism and hedonism never fully satisfy: they only numb people temporarily to their deeper hunger - a hunger that can be satisfied only by God.
What the world teaches sounds impressive, but is ultimately lacking. Human science reveals many wonders, but closer examination always reveals its limitations. Modern medicine relieves much suffering, but it is often erratic as a guide for life decisions (pity those who constantly redirect their lives based on "the latest study"). Modern technology increases human capabilities, both for good and for evil.
What God offers does not contradict anything that is truly good in technology, medicine, science, pleasure or any material thing. In fact, by being grounded in God, we help ensure that all of these things may remain truly good and help keep us directed on God. Without God, all these things – some more quickly than others – will lead us astray and into darkness.
What this world sets before us is tempting – often more appetizing than what God sets before us (about as appetizing as a strict diet of vegetables and water for many of us) – but it is only in God that our deepest hungers can be satisfied and that all the things of this world may be directed to our greatest happiness.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.