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The Fourth Sunday of Lent - Year C
Food is mentioned about 500 times in the Bible. Bread especially is used literally and symbolically to describe relationships, sustenance, life and salvation.
Today’s passage from Joshua (5:9a, 10-12) comes after the Israelites crossed over the River of Jordan into the land of milk and honey. Once they arrived God said to Joshua “I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” After that the Israelites ate the “produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain.” (v. 11)
The Israelites survived during their arduous sojourn because they ate a miraculous substance (manna) found on the ground each day. Jews continue to remember their exodus at Passover as they share the matzah, the “bread of affliction,” and other symbolic foods.
Bread is also important in the Second Testament.The miracle of loaves and fish was made possible because people unselfishly shared the bread they had with others. Jesus called himself the bread of life. At the last supper he broke the bread of affliction and called it his body. Early Christians recognized Jesus in the “breaking of the bread.”
Bread is indispensable. It is essential for human survival and relationships. The word companion is taken from two Latin words meaning “with bread.” When Jesus said we cannot live by bread alone (Matthew 4:4) he meant we also need to be fed mentally, spiritually, aesthetically, with whatever gives meaning to our lives. In reality though, the famous proverb means nothing when you are starving.
Between 1932 and 1933 millions of Ukrainians were starved to death in a famine generated by Josef Stalin to collectivize agriculture. His political decrees led to a drop in production of crops and led to food shortages. The Ukrainian word for this historic tragedy is “holodomor” taken from two words meaning hunger and extermination. Historians say Stalin did this because he was afraid of losing Ukraine.
Today because of Vladimer Putin’s cruel and inhuman invasion of Ukraine Alistair MacDonald reports the 2022 harvest is imperiled. “The crop shortfall will extend to the many countries that rely on Ukraine for wheat, corn and cooking oil.”  Putin is starving people to death to serve his own egotistical agenda to reestablish the former Soviet Union. He is afraid of losing Ukraine, like Stalin was. And Putin’s autocratic venom is spreading.
The Wall Street Journal reports the war is also “disrupting food and energy supplies world wide.” Bread prices have increased by 40% in Kenya. People in Turkey are stampeding over one another to get bread. Street protestors in Iraq call themselves the “revolution of the starving.” This past week the president of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, distributed free rice flour throughout that country.
In today’s familiar gospel story (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32) Jesus gets into trouble with law abiding Pharisees and scribes for breaking bread with outcasts. He responds to them with a parable about a lost son and grateful parents. It is a powerful lessen to autocrats around the world about welcoming everyone to the table no matter who they are, where they’ve been, or what they’ve done.
Presbyterian minister Mihee Kim-Kort wrote: “This story gives us a view of the wide complexity of human relationships, as well as insight into the kind of love and welcome that drives Jesus’ ministry.” Those who abide by laws of kindness and compassion are called to heal the deep divisions that keep secular and religious world leaders from being totally honest with one another and their constituents.
In his second letter to the Corinthians (5:17-21) Paul optimistically wrote: “the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” The possibilities for us are endless when we work together for a common global good. What stands in the way is the rise of totalitarianism fueled by unbridled power brokers, greed and fear mongering. We start by protesting tribal nationalistic theories that hurt powerless people.
Maybe we do not live by the bread of life alone but on the Word of God. Let’s try it. Would those of us who are not yet hungry be willing to give up bread and other staples made with wheat, corn, and rice until the war in Ukraine ends? Starting today … I am.
1. Ukraine’s azure and yellow flag symbolizes the sky above and the vast fertile wheat fields below. It originated in 1848. It was outlawed when Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union. In 1992 it was restored as the national flag.