December 11, 2017

Beggar of Bread

“Bread for myself is a material question.

Bread for my neighbor is a spiritual one.”

—Nikolai Berdyaev

Recently, a friend visited our family one evening and stayed a long time. I baked cookies during his visit and felt triumphant over that considering I’d been sick for one week and had not bought groceries in nearly two. Dinner earlier had been a patchwork of leftovers and strange items that lurked in the pantry. As our friend left at nearly ten o’clock, he mentioned he was stopping to eat on the way home.

What? He had missed dinner and sat in my house for three hours politely munching a couple of cookies? I’d never thought to ask if he’d eaten since we had finished long before he arrived. I apologized, mortified. To think that I would let someone walk away from my house unfed was more than I could take. Had I known, I would have exhausted all options to provide for him. I could have ordered a pizza, jumped in the car to fetch takeout or banged on my neighbor’s door. But it was too late. I withered in embarrassment and vowed to make it up to him. I even lay awake replaying the incident that night.

So it was with interest I read early the next morning a parable Christ taught his disciples. The circumstances were strikingly similar to what I’d just experienced. “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs” (Luke 11:5-8).

Lord, what are you saying? This was more than coincidental. It was, as Margaret Feinberg would put it, a sacred echo – God making his point with reverberations of circumstance, story and finally the remembrance of a word from a recent reading about intercession being the most perfect form of prayer. I started to weep with the realization of what he wanted me to see. It came as I began to bring the needs of some of my people to God. They were big needs, profound needs and seemingly hopeless needs.

For two that I knew, advancing age and failing health could not be turned back. I’d been watching them with both admiration and sorrow as they continued to put one foot in front of the other, trying not to become burdensome to those around them. How lonely …

Another family close to me suffered the devastations and deprivations brought into it by a mother’s drug abuse. The impact was being felt three generations deep, the ripple effect far and wide and the ruin for the children promised to last long into their future.

A pastor I prayed for reeled from the imminent breakup of his strife-ridden church. His lifetime of ministry suddenly seemed of no consequence and the body of Christ completely untrustworthy.

These were things for which I could offer no help, things that were beyond the reaches of financial gifts or heartfelt sympathy or a timely hug. I pictured my depleted pantry in the next room and thought of how helpless I’d felt the night before when I learned my guest was hungry and I had not fed him. I have no bread.

No bread. Isn’t that a common theme in Scripture? Joseph’s brothers ended up begging bread from the one they’d sold to Egyptian slavers in a jealous fit of rage. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness without bread until God supplied it from heaven. In the town of Nob, David and his men were hungry as they fled King Saul and were sustained by consecrated bread the priest Ahimelech offered them. Elijah hid in the desert as Ahab sought to kill him and ate bread and meat ravens brought him.

Jesus sprinkled his conversations with words about bread. He also broke bread with every kind of person of that time and place. Dining in the Hebraic culture symbolized an intimacy and friendship. It was that the Pharisees recoiled from as they watched him eat with tax collectors and sinners. How could someone truly from God fellowship with the unclean?

On more than one occasion Jesus referred to himself as the Bread of Life and even told his followers, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). Coupled with his invitation to them to drink his blood, the effect was a hard teaching that offended and caused many to turn back and no longer follow him. We will not be so beggarly as to do this thing. We will not defy laws to become one with the Messiah.

The issue of bread troubled the earth when Jesus walked here and it troubles the earth now. Perhaps it is why he spoke of it and used it to make profound points. There is no doubt he wanted his people to have bread, both literally and spiritually.

Luke records one of probably many instances when Jesus concerned himself with physically hungry people. He and his disciples sought solitude in Bethsaida after an intense time of ministry, but crowds followed them there. “Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.’ He replied, ‘You give them something to eat’” (Luke 9:12,13). We all know what happened. Jesus took five loaves and two fishes, broke them, gave thanks and proceeded to feed 5,000 men (and maybe three times that number in women and children) … with baskets full of leftovers.

In another instance, Jesus was bent on seeing spiritual need satisfied. In the wake of his resurrection he walked and talked and ate with a sorrowful Simon Peter, the one who’d denied even knowing Christ in the hours before the crucifixion. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him – probing, piercing and finally restoring his failed disciple. Three times he gave Peter the care of his people saying, “Feed my lambs … take care of my sheep … feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).

Looking over all these instances, it’s difficult to say what tasks have been more monumental – Moses calling on God for manna for two million wanderers, Joseph saving the produce of Egypt and making it outlast seven years of famine, David taking holy bread from the table of God whom he feared, Elijah running into the wilderness and waiting for ravens to feed him, the disciples gathering the multitude and assuring them that somehow Jesus would give them bread or Peter thinking of how he’d failed Christ and was now expected to carry on his ministry …

… or me bringing my hopeless people before God’s throne …

… or you bringing yours.

In any case, they had no bread. I have no bread. You have no bread. When there is not enough, it doesn’t matter if there is one to feed or millions. A beggar is a beggar. Strangely, it seems that’s exactly as God would have it. He allows us the desperation of one unsolvable trial or a million so that we will come seeking him.

He would have us knocking on his door in the middle of the night and refusing to take “no” for an answer. God desires from us the same persistence that drove men to dig through the roof of a house to Jesus in order to get their paralyzed friend healed, the same persistence that allowed Abraham to boldly press him for as many as could be rescued from Sodom, the same persistence that drove Moses into his presence for 40 years seeking all kinds of bread for his people. In light of these accounts, I see that I give up much too quickly.

Yet, I also see that prevailing prayer turns paupers into princes and priests – of families and nations and the church.

This is my failure that I confess. I do not press God as Abraham did. I do not cling to Christ through the night like Jacob. I do not pound on the door of heaven and beg God to feed my friends. But this is the way he has ordained. This is the way one procures bread for a friend.

Later, there will be the necessity of then carrying that bread to the friend, of participating in the act of feeding, whether it is physical or emotional or spiritual. The disciples still had to distribute all those fish and loaves. Peter still had to go out and preach – to feed Christ’s sheep. But first they had to get the bread. They knew what to ask for and who to ask. They knew to not stop asking.

Never stop asking. Don’t let me stop asking.

Now Lord … about Japan. We have no bread.

Comments

  1. Just Joan says:

    That was beautiful. And oh so needed.

  2. Thanks Lisa – well said.

  3. Beautiful post. A lot to consider.

    We musn’t forget about the “True Bread” which comes down from Heaven. This is far greater than any bread made with human hands.

    Even Jesus left the multitude the next (after the feeding of the 5,000) day. This great program of God wasn’t a hunger relief program…it was a salvation program. We certainly ought feed the poor, but more importantly we need to give people the True Bread of the gospel of the forgiveness of sins, for Jesus’ sake.

    Thanks.

  4. as with most imonk posts/thoughts, this one is directly related to others preceding it recently. the comments regarding communion come to mind…

    …David taking holy bread from the table of God whom he feared…

    every Sunday our church has communion available at 2 small tables; one in the front & one in the back of our sanctuary. it consists of a half-loaf of different types of bread (sourdough my favorite!) each week & a clay chalice with grape juice. i am sure Jesus used the basic elements of sustenance in His Last Supper institution of communion. bread & wine the common meal elements in that time/culture which all other items where then added to. i know for a fact that if there came the practical need to feed someone with these elements no one would think twice about doing so. i also think that there is more theological implication of providing for people’s in the name of Jesus than simply charitable work or temporary alleviation of physical distress. yeah, i am sensing a deeper connection about this consideration as we anticipate the approaching Easter Week…

  5. Rick Ro. says:

    Nice post, Lisa! A lot here to consider. Thank you for exploring in such depth what “bread” means.

  6. Lisa, I really needed to hear this, and on this particular day. Thank you.

  7. I just stumbled across your site and I am glad I did. This was thought provoking, thank you.

  8. Beautiful and insightful post that really spoke to me. Thank you. More often than we think, it really does boil down to very simple things like asking and helping and trusting.

  9. Yuri Wijting says:

    Thank you Lisa,

    This will have me thinking a long while. I quite agree that we “give up much too easily.” This reminds me of a parallel statement by CS Lewis that we don’t praise God too much but rather too little.

    Your article has huge implications for us western Christians who are easily lulled into complacently or think that we’ve reached a standard higher than others because of wealth. Your message is a sobering reminder of our default position before God.

    When Luther died, he had a piece of paper in his pocket with the words written: “We are all beggars, this is true.”

  10. Glad you reminded me to pray for Japan. They need our prayers.
    I am also mindful of the prophets prediction of a famine for hearing the word of God. That’s a famine that can slip in unnoticed if we lose our hunger for the truth.