CAN BREAD BRIDGE DIFFERENCES?
Twelve Jewish men went to a Samaritan village, bought food, prepared it, brought it to their teacher and said, “Master eat!” Jesus was not prepared to eat what his own disciples had prepared. Why did He refuse to eat, was there something wrong with the food? Jesus was hungry. Why did He delay eating? The simple answer was, He did not want to eat alone in front of people whose bread he needed. He expected to break bread with new friends. Among many people, there is a tradition that keeps and extra plate and seat open for an unexpected visitor, even one that is not friendly (Jn. 4:31-43).
Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well and her Samaritan people is a lesson on how to warm our way into the hearts of people by eating with them. Total strangers that lived in animosity became friends when they ate bread together. In fact, Jesus turned the event into two days of feasting. The food had not changed, but their attitudes did. Jesus simple request for a drink opened the door to new friendships and change. We do not change people with words but with actions and deeds. Jesus, by waiting to eat with the Samaritans, put his faith into action. His presence and not his words convinced the Samaritans that He was the Christ. It is not persuasive to prepare a table for others with us abstaining to eat with them. We do want people to believe in what we say, but we are not comfortable to eat with them. Jesus did sit down and eat with the people that needed salvation. He did not wait to have them come to him. Even those that came met him on the road. We have been coerced to change things. The doctor no longer comes to us. We now must go to the doctor and he feeds us words rather than bread. Jesus did the exact opposite; He came to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10).
Jesus’ approach to gain the confidence of these Samaritans is another valuable lesson on how to be invited to eat bread with hostiles. He made himself available but did not force himself on his hosts. He had them invite him to eat bread with them. On another occasion, when a Samaritan village refused him hospitality, He did not force his way on them, as his disciples hoped He would (Lk. 9:51-55). The twelve Jesus send out to spread his message were instructed to go only to the lost sheep of Israel and then only to those that were receptive and opened their homes where Jesus’ messengers could eat bread with their new friends (Mt. 10:11-14). Even the Risen Christ did not just walk in on the two disciples from Emmaus. It was at their urging that He sat down with them and broke bread with them, and it was while He broke the bead that they recognize the stranger (Lk. 24:28-31). When we eat bread with others we do recognize in them the goodness that God has placed in all of us. It is essential that we make friends with people that have bread who are not of our persuasion (Lk. 16:9).
Bread can bring people together because it is a means by which we get to know each other. I recall one stormy night while we were refugees on the road with our horses and wagon with nowhere to go and curfew was already in force. The English military police saw our predicament and knocked on a door we had knocked earlier and were refused shelter. The lady was alone and afraid to take us in. We did not want to stay in her home but in a small corner in her stable with some straw on the ground where our mother and our six – month old brother could rest for the night. The military had no problem inducing her to let us stay. She bolted her doors and must have spent the night in fear. In the morning when she saw us getting ready to leave, she came out with milk for the baby and some food for all of us. We learned that the war had taken her husband and a son and she learned about us losing our home and loved ones. She was no longer anxious to see us leave because we had found common ground when she shared some bread. Months earlier we stayed with an older couple for several days. They had lost both of their sons in the war and they needed help with their farm. They fell in love with one of my baby sisters and wanted to adopt us, have us care for them and they would sign over their farm to us. My parents could not in good conscience take advantage of such kindness. It was the need for bread that led these two old people to seek such a solution. Bread is a powerful incentive to bring people together and make them get along.
I immigrated to Canada as a farm hand. I ended up in a community with farmers who had also come to Canada for the same reason, to get some land and raise their own bread. My farmer had five quarters of land consisting of 160 acres each. His wife had past away and left him with two small lads. His second wife had no inclination to care for his boys but for her own wayward son. The farmer had offered her son one quarter of land for taking care of his sons and the four quarters set aside for his children. The stepson refused the offer hoping to get the whole farm. The wise father protected his children and made the same offer to me. At that time, I was to blind to see the opportunity to help the farmer until his son reached legal age. I was still looking for a pie in the sky. The farmers concern was that his boys would have bread in case he was taken from them. I was touchéd by his confidence in me that he would trust me with his children. He had no hesitation that I would live up to his expectation because I had proven myself as a reliable farm hand. I lacked the insight what bread could do for my family and me in the future.
Bread can break down favoritism. Favoritism has always been a major obstacle to breaking bread together. The Tenth Commandment, “You shall not covet,” was designed to protect against covetousness, greed and prejudice (Ex. 20:17). By nature we are partial toward those we like and love a little more. Like Jesus said, we still live in a world that does not take the bread of our children and give it to those beneath us (Mt. 15:26). Even the fair-minded Apostle Paul urged his followers to be a little kinder towards their own believers (Gal. 6:10). The universal law “ to do unto others what we expect others to do unto us has been violated, particularly by professing Jews and Christians. The law that Jesus mentioned was already in use during Hammurabi of Babylon 1900 B.C. (Mt. 7:12). Partiality perverts justice with bribes (Deut. 16:19). Exemptions are regarded as special favors, but Jesus did not seek to be exempt from paying taxes. He told those that wanted to claim exemptions, “To give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Lk. 20:20-24). Then, He instructed Peter to catch a fish that had swallowed two silver coins and pay the taxes for himself and for Peter (Mt. 17:27). Paul admitted that partiality was human and not of God (Eph. 6:9). Peter had a difficult time dealing with favoritism (Ac. 10; Gal. 2:11-14). James had his hands full with special interest groups and so did Paul at Corinth (Ja. 2; I Cor. 3). Paul had to tell them to eat at home before they deprived the poor of their bread (I Cor. 1:17-24).
Bread can also divide people and cause unhealthy and very painful relationships. In The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man’s table separated him from the poor beggar at his gate. He gave more to his dogs than to the sick Lazarus treated by dogs (Lk. 16:19-31). The Parable of the Rich Fool aims at greed and the unwillingness of barn builders to make bread more available to their fellow men (Lk. 12:13-21). Jesus loved The Rich Young Man that had come to him and inquired how he could please God and when Jesus told him to feed the poor, he walked away disappointed (Mk. 10:17-23). It is hard for capitalists to part with their bread and bridge the difference between themselves and the hungry. I too was hungry and I was not looking for handouts, but for any job that could earn me a meal. The rich preferred to give me a meal rather than a job so I would move on and get out of their sight. Unfortunately, there was nowhere else to go and the hungry became criminals and violent. In Eastern Europe, the poor replaced the rich and ended up as self-destructive spoilers. Once they were in control, they became just as greedy as the rich were before them. They were not satisfied with mere bread.
To sustain their lifestyle they had to have someone pay for their conveniences. They had hoped that taxing the people with holdings and their supporters with jobs would keep them in power. To stay at the helm, they had to extend favors to their supporters. The supporters unionized and their demands put their job providers out of business. The socialist bosses took over the management of industry and farming. To the factory workers it mattered little as to who was in charge, but to farmers things were of a different nature. When these farmers were stripped of their rights to own land and coerced to work on government farms, they no longer co-operated with nature as to when to plant and as to when to harvest. They put in eight hours regardless of the weather. My stepfather-in-law had forty Ackers in the Ukraine and he managed to deliver his quota to the system and harvested more grain than the entire town. The government employees harvested during bad weather and they spread their grain under the wheels to get their machinery out of the mud. They arrested my in-law as a saboteur and he escaped and ended up in the USA. My family left home and land to the communist before their system was introduced. Two my uncles had farms in East Germany. The quotas assigned to them increased every year until they too turned their farms over to community farming. One uncle ended up in Canada and the other kept a horse and made his living collecting garbage in a large city in East Germany.
The struggle for bread has taken a new turn. Both, capitalism and socialism have and are failing. A new free enterprise is emerging, but it too is wrapped in greed and power and has a blind eye to the need for a breadbasket, that is run by many small farmers with personal interest in bread and not by conglomerates controlling our livelihood. We already have had examples when a factory goes out of business and the unemployed scramble for bread. Think what will happen when a food conglomerate goes under? Just think of the wise Solomon who was not wise enough to secure his kingdom and wealth for his son (I Ki. 12). It was the small farmer that provided the bread in the growth of this nation and it is the conglomerates that have swallowed it up. Will we in time come to our senses and bridge the differences for the sake of bread?