Jesus, after his baptism, went into the wilderness to pray and fast, and to contemplate the calling on his life that he felt. How was he, a lowly peasant from Nazareth, going to rally the people of Israel behind him, and bring them back to the ways of God? What kind of leader, what kind of Messiah, would it require him to become?
He could become a provider for the children of God. He could simply overthrow the way of empire by flattening the playing field, by making all men equal in means. He could solve the material problems of the world, the hunger and poverty and need all around him, the same hunger and poverty and need he has grown up with.
He could give the people what they lacked materially, and thus rally them to his banner, convince them his way was a better option than the Temple’s way, than Rome’s way, because his way filled their bellies. They surely would follow this lead. Power could be had by showing his way as more likely to lead to material rewards than the ways of the world
But Jesus knew this wasn’t enough. He thought of Deuteronomy:
One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Certainly, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, housing the homeless, all these actions are important, and necessary. More than once in his ministry, Jesus used his power to feed the hungry, and more than once he commanded his disciples to do the same.
But Jesus could not, and would not, guarantee a live free of need to those who took his Way. Living in the example of Christ, in the pursuit of relationship with God, in a life or service and love for others, is not a comfortable one. It does not bring big houses and great feasts.
It is a Way of hardship and rejection by the world. One who simply feeds others is one who is praised and worshipped; one who feeds other while asking why they are hungry, who identifies with them and thus convicts those who have enough but do not share what they have, is one who is labeled a traitor and a heretic and an anarchist.
Jesus saw in that desert, when he thought of becoming a provider for Israel, that it is not enough. He knew he must feed, but he must also help his followers understand that God is not satisfied with merely feeding. God wants us to go beyond the mercy of bread lines, to the justice of perpetually-filled pantries. And the way to do that is to fill people with the Love of God for one another.
And so Jesus declined the opportunity to turn stone to bread.