Bread and Redemption

The knock on the front door at Manna House came just before 8am. Was it a late arriving volunteer? A guest who was growing impatient? I opened the door. Two men, one white, one black, stood there in their MLGW uniforms. I could see their truck parked on the street. The black man introduced himself, while his white co-worker stood silently holding four loaves of bread. I asked, “How can I help you?”

“Would you take this food? We’ve got meat and cheese and bread.” He put forth one large tray covered with tinfoil and a small sack carrying chicken salad in store containers.

I was inclined to say “no.” Normally we do not accept food donations. The St. Vincent de Paul Food Mission is just a couple of blocks away and they serve a meal every day starting at 9:30am. No need to duplicate what they do. And unless the donation is enough for the 120 or so people who come each morning to Manna House, it is not practical to distribute without creating tensions. This little amount of bread and fixings would not be nearly enough to serve everyone.

The man standing there with the tray added, “My son died. This is left-over from my son’s funeral repast.”

Suddenly there was something more here at stake than the amount of food being offered.

“I’m very sorry about your son,” I said. “Thank you. We will serve this food in his honor.”

We shook hands and the two men turned and left.

A quick consultation led to the decision to wait until later in the morning to serve this offering. That way we would have time to prepare the sandwiches and also have enough to serve those still in the house. Thankfully, we had a group of nursing students from the University of Memphis with us this morning, so we had plenty of help to do those extra jobs.

Around 10am the sandwiches were distributed, fresh bread, plenty of fixings. For the guests who remained the sandwiches were a delight. Somehow we had enough that even a few of us volunteers enjoyed a sandwich.

Later in the day I returned to the Gospel for today in the lectionary.

“The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. Jesus enjoined them, ‘Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’ They concluded among themselves that it was because they had no bread.”

As was often the case, the disciples were wrong. Jesus reminded them of the time he fed five thousand with just five loaves, and four thousand with seven loaves, and both times there were abundant leftovers. And then he asked them, “Do you still not understand?” (See Mark 8:14-21).

I wondered about the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. What leaven could they possibly have in common? What is Jesus warning his disciples about and warning me about if I’m trying to be a disciple?

I had to dig into some commentaries. There were, of course, a variety of interpretations. The one that hit home was their leaven being a refusal to trust in Jesus and his way of life as the bread of life. Those who trust in the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod have their lives rise on a calculation of control and power, which often includes the conviction that there is not enough, that there is scarcity.

Jesus’ way of life rises on a different leaven, on a commitment to compassion and justice. It is the leaven of abundance and generosity.

Jesus’ leaven brought two men to the front door of Manna House with a simple offer of compassionate sharing.

The leaven of the Pharisees and Herod was ready to turn them away. But the bread was marked with suffering and grief, the redemption of Jesus was in there. And the Bread of Life saved me from turning them away.

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