I spent part of the morning of May 31 packaging and delivering bread. Every three years, the Mennonite-ish churches in our area pool their time, talent and resources to organize a relief sale for Mennonite Central Committee.
And every three years, a friend in our church uses our church kitchen to bake bread for the sale. Like, a lot of bread. Like, 350 loaves of bread. He arrives at 4:30 in the morning, turns on CBC radio and works until late afternoon. Sourdough, whole wheat, muesli, raisin, white . . . the list goes on and on. He told me that this year he’s been doing push ups for three months to prepare for the physical toll of kneading and rolling dough. It had never occurred to me that you might need to train to bake bread. But then it would never occur to me to bake 350 loaves, either.
I didn’t have a sermon to write that week and my Friday was proceeding rather quietly. Also, the smell of fresh bread wafting up from the basement through the register in my office was driving me crazy. So, I went downstairs to chat or see if my friend needed any help. He told me I could put the bread in bags and deliver it to the sale. Sure, that sounded like a job that even I couldn’t screw up. So, I set aside the books and the laptop, and the emails still needed to be dealt with, and I went to work.
It was great fun. The simplicity and repetitiveness of the task was almost therapeutic. No complex arguments to understand, no intractable personal problems, no classes or sermons to prepare, no fires to put out. Just simple work where you can see the results in real time. Take a loaf of bread, put it in the bag, twist, tie and into the box. And repeat. And repeat. And when it was all done, put the boxes in the car, drive to the sale, put them on the table. And repeat. And repeat. There was something very satisfying about the task of delivering bread somewhere where you know that it will either feed actual people in need or, more likely, where the proceeds from its sale will go to fund the work of peace, justice, refugee work and development around the world.
There’s a well-known scene in each of the three synoptic gospels where Jesus is teaching the crowds and the end of a long day draws nigh. The disciples tell Jesus to send the crowd away so they can find food and lodging. Jesus responds enigmatically, as Jesus so often does: “You give them something to eat.” The disciples default, as most of us would, to the scarcity of the situation — “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish.” It’s a comically inadequate amount for a crowd that size. It’s the equivalent of trying to feed an arena full of sports fans with a bag and a half of popcorn and a few hot dogs. The disciples see the absurdity of the situation and they’re hoping Jesus does, too.
But, no, Jesus doesn’t seem to. You give them something to eat. You give them bread.
And so, they do. They probably even grumbled as they did it. They gave what they had. And Jesus gave what he had. And all were fed, all were satisfied. There was even bread to spare.
That’s probably not a bad metaphor for the work of MCC or the work of faith more broadly. We offer what we can and watch to see how it will merge with what Jesus brings to the table. We don’t stay stuck in scarcity, in not-enoughness. We bake bread, we write sermons, we visit the sick, we offer friendship, we extend hospitality, we open our hearts to people who are well-acquainted with rejection. We tend, we plant, we paint, we play, we pray. We extend mercy, we pursue justice, we speak the truth, as best we are able. We forgive, and forgive, and forgive again.
We give. Jesus gives. And the hungry are fed. If we’re doing it well, there may even be a few loaves left over.
Ryan Dueck is pastor of Lethbridge (Alta.) Mennonite Church. He writes at Rumblings.