“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
In the story of Jesus in the wilderness, he confronts the tempter three different times. The first time, he is tempted to turn stones into bread.
Of course, Jesus was hungry, but bread was symbolic and political. The phrase “bread and circuses” comes to us from Rome. The Empire used food both as a reward and a weapon, to punish and pacify occupied territory—like the land where Jesus lived.
Later on, when he feeds thousands of people by the sea with only a handful of loaves and fish, the people are ready to follow him into battle. Mark points out that they sit in groups of fifties and hundreds, which is biblical language implying an army (Mark 6:40; (compare Exodus 18:25 and 1 Maccabees 3:54-57)). John says that after the miracle, the people come and want to make him king by force (John 6:15).
The politics of bread still is still at work today. Alabama is one of the few states that actually tax groceries. A pastor friend confronted an Alabama legislator about it, and he replied, “How else are you going to get money out of poor people?” Whenever politicians talk about “makers and takers,” whenever they blame immigrants for stealing jobs, they are playing the Roman game of weaponizing food. But the alternative is not “bread and circuses” to pacify the poor. The alternative is the living bread. “I will feed them with justice,” says God (Ezekiel 34:16).
When Jesus does provide bread, the miracle is understated. He doesn’t wave a wand and turn stones into bread. That would make him the dispenser. No, the bread appears because it is shared and not hoarded. He also tells his disciples to pray for daily bread. Jesus does not need a huge supply of bread to give out. He needs his followers to share.
The fact is, the world produces enough food to feed everyone on it. What we have is not a supply problem, but a distribution problem. We even use biblical language to describe it: food deserts. We don’t need to turn stones into bread. We need to address the sin that leads to hoarding and inequality. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,” (John 6:27).
Twice a week during Lent (usually Tuesday and Thursday) I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here:
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