Love without Bread

BREAD MUST BE SHARED

The Evangelist Luke, in connection with “Give us our daily bread,” had Jesus relate this suggestion.  “Suppose, the hour is late, the door is locked and you are in bed with your children.  You hear a persistent pounding at the front door. You get up and when you open the door you find your friend standing there and asking you to give him three loaves of bread to feed another friend that has come a long way and he has nothing to set before him.  What will you do?  The decent thing is to get up and help your friend” (Lk. 11:2-8).  It is not just the Gospel; it is common sense.

Sharing is an amazing gift.  The Bible has some remarkable incidents of sharing and so do we.  If we ask, seek and knock, we find people that share generously and willingly with us when we are in need.  World War II turned us into refugees in West Germany.  We came with two horses and traded one for food and a carriage to drive people and haul things for a living.  The horse died and we started a small craft shop to earn some bread.  This one Christmas we were so desperate and as our last resort our father borrowed a bicycle, tied a card to it, loaded some items and went to the city to plead with some merchants for bread.  He found one sympathetic merchant and we had something to eat.  A year later, he still had not sold those items and father never stopped thanking him.  Before that incident we were on the road and had just left Dresden behind us when it was bombed a day later.  We stopped in a small town near a barn and two old people came out to greet us.  They saw our predicament and invited us to stay with them, not just in their barn but also in their home.  They had lost both of their sons in the war and they fell in love with us and wanted us to stay and take care of them and their farm.  We stayed a week and joined other refugees who were acquaintances because we feared the Russians would come there too and of course they did.  We felt sad because we could not take advantage of their generosity.  We had quite a few instances where people were opening opportunities, but let us move to the Bible and see what it says about sharing. 

The Bible has a number of stories with fairytale endings.  They are believable to those among us with similar encounters.  One surrounds Elijah the Prophet who had his run in with Jezebel and took refuge in the mountains and was prepared to die.  God did not let him die and sent ravens and angels to give him bread and water.  God had a job for him and sent him to anoint two kings and his own replacement. Elijah was afraid to return because he had killed four hundred Jezebel Baal prophets and their altar.  He felt that he was alone and would find no support among the people.  The Lord God surprised him and told him that there were seven thousand hardy souls that did not bow their knees to Baal or kiss his lips or ran away from their posts because of trouble.  There was even a widow brave enough to give him her last meal that lasted through the famine.  It was Elijah who hesitated trusting in other people that were just as faithful to God as he was but did not leave their posts and jobs in the world and waited on the Lord to feed them (I Ki. 17-19). 

Here was Elijah living on fairytale food and there were seven thousand serving God by faith and not by sight among hostiles.  How did these people survive among Baal worshippers during hard times?  Could it have been that they had followed the Lord’s command to save when harvests were prosperous to share when they were lean?  Having been in similar circumstances, I believe they did store food and share with their Baal neighbors.  During times of food shortages, the supplies, regardless of who they are, will be welcomed and tolerated.  I raised rabbits during the war and sold them to a lady that was not a German or a Pole.  My father was a Polish soldier as a young man and in the war and he stayed out of the German army by sharing food with those on the Draft Board in the city.  A little butter kept our father away from the German fronts.  Men, much older than he was were drafted.  My father used bread very effectively.  When we ran out of bread by becoming refugees ourselves, we learned quickly how to make friends with strangers and we did find bread.  One place we stopped during harvesting and stayed with the owners and they gave us shelter and food.  In another place, during a very wet month, a kind man let us stay in his barracks that had housed prisoners of war in a bombed out area and he had some small jobs for father. 

The Elijah experience is a wake up call for us who think God will feed us with the same bread the world lives on.  He was sent back into the world to a widow that needed his service where the prophet earned his keep.  Mammon is not a heavenly treasure, but in the world he buys our bread (Mt. 6:19-24).  For Luke, Jesus used mammon (money) as a tool to secure bread and shelter when one no longer was being employed.  He expected to be taken in by people who trusted him when he managed their debts (Lk. 16:1-12).  What happens when money is devalued and useless?  How do we establish trust as strangers among strangers?  We could no longer buy trust we had to earn it.  We never left a place where we stayed in shambles like some of our renters did and then expected us to give them letters of references.  The barracks we moved in for about a month took us days to clean them of bugs and rodents and left it ready for someone to move in.  The place where we finally settled had no ready dwelling for us.  The Bar and Hotel owner needed someone to haul beer and my father offered him our horses.  The Bar owner sent his daughter and me (both fifteen years old) to get beer from a larger city.  While we were off to haul beer in a barrel, father was shown a bombed out apartment and he began to restore it while we lived in a farmer’s barn.  We earned our trust and the locals began to accept us and I did a lot of work with our horses and then with one horse before we sold one and lost one. 

In sharing bread or making friends with mammon does not make people into oneness or a unity.  In our experience, we were useful to each other but never accepted as equals.  We remained outsiders until we moved on.  People remained suspicious of us as we were of them.  Ultimately our service was mostly to bombed out people from the cities and refugees like ourselves.  I was a German, but to the locals I was a Polak.  They put me on the first soccer team in the morning, but by playing time the locals had me removed from the team.  My only friend was a refugee like myself.  When they learned that I was bound for Canada, they cheered because I would no longer date their girls.  Even the bombed out and the refugees were friendly as long as we had something to put on the table.  When we had a flood and I hauled people across the water with my horse and our residence was threatened, another refugee family on the hill took us in.   It was bread that brought us together but it did not make us equal, neither did religion.  We had chosen a Protestant town, but they were not more friendly that the Catholic towns.  We were in the world but not of their world and it was not because we were Christians and so were the locals, perhaps better than we were.  We were simply different, spoke differently, behaved differently, lived differently and we valued things differently.  The main reason was that we no longer valued mammon the way the natives did.  Our mammon got stranded in Poland and Russia.  All we had left was ourselves and even that we could not keep when I lost a sister and a brother.  A truck killed my brother when he ran home from a grocery store.  We had no lunch that day.  The natives did help us bury our brother.  Bread and death do bring people together briefly.

The tendency to think of oneself first regarding bread is significant.  Jesus himself had to deal with this serious issue.  He was sent to the lost sheep of Israel and was interrupted by a Canaanite mother seeking help for he daughter.  He gave her a humiliating answer, “It is not right to take bread from the children and throw it to their dogs” (Mt. 15:26).  Jesus merely expressed a common belief.  Those that neglected their own loved ones were worse than heathen (I Tim. 5:8).  It is not exactly a commendation for so many modern parents, but so is the need for humiliation that can earn us some crumbs from our bread makers.  In times of need and especially hunger, humility can be a blessing.  Pride will not feed us, but humility may open the hardest heart.  The Canaanite mother broke down the wall that closed her chance for help with humility. “Lord, you are right; yet, the children do drop crumbs and the dogs eat them” (Mt. 15:27).  It is a lesson that we might want to take to heart in not asking for too much when crumbs are sufficient to feed us?  When we continue to want more bread than we need, our children may end up going hungry.  We live in a time where this tendency persists and projects a gloomy future.

Jesus pretended to be overwhelmed with the lady’s faith and let her have the crumbs that were enough to heal her daughter.  Matthew has this woman’s need for crumbs that heal precede the feeding of the five thousand where a lad shares his five buns and two fish with Jesus and He multiplies crumbs into loaves.  There are numerous lessons that have been derived from this miracle, but the one that is most in my memory is how we got by on so very little during our own time when we had no bread at all.  Yes, we did steal potatoes from a plant or beats, ate the raw or cooked them over an open fire outdoors, while we were homeless.  Seventy years later, I still marvel how those crumbs kept us alive and led us to succeed.  We never took more than just to still our hunger or damage a plant from producing more potatoes.  We knew that when you remove the biggest potato from a plant, the small ones had a better change to grow larger or multiply.  Even nature shares when it is properly managed.  At the end it is not just gospel truth but common sense.