2009/8/25 – Our Daily Bread


“GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD”

In Exodus, the LORD gave the Israelites Manna from Heaven after their escape from the Egyptians. The story goes like this:

“When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: “Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.” The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.” [Exodus 16. 15-18]

The passages in the Gospels gives us a few famous references to bread. where Jesus performs a great miracle, one of the most well-known is that of the multiplication of the bread and loaves. This is one of the only times within the NT that this story appears in all four gospels. It is an interesting story, and in it, Jesus and his disciples are stuck out in some isolated “desert place” during their travels. This in itself would be scarcely worth mention, but the problem was that 4000 “men” followed Jesus out there and remained with him for over three days, and were getting hungry. Jesus tells his students that he feels sorry for the crowd and realizes that they were too far away from the towns The disciples are freaking because they don’t have any idea how to get food for the mob.

Jesus asks how many loaves of bread were on hand. Seven loaves and bits of fish. Jesus ordered the crowd to sit down and gave thanks for the bread and broke it and had his disciples serve the crowd. The Bible states that the entire crowd “ate and were filled.” There were even seven baskets of left overs. While the Gospels fail to mention what happened to this surplus, what is the meaning, if any, behind this miracle story?

One the surface, this “miracle” (if it really happened)[1] consists of an impossible exchange ratio of bread to the people in the crowd. Not only was everyone fed, but there was more than enough left over. All from a meager amount of fish. Jesus as the Living Word is capable in of serving many equally. “Give us this day our daily bread,” goes the “Lord’s Prayer.” Even when Jesus tells his students that “Man cannot live by bread alone,” here he sees the situation as dire enough to sensibly provide people the illogical; multiplying bread from very little. The day is saved for these folk.

But for everyone else who has gone hungry ever since the this story has been circulated, this miracle remains meaningless and empty gesture. For the Lord our God does not give us our daily bread. By the sweat of our brow (or for those who have internet access, the sweat of somebody else’s brow) we make our bread. It is telling that in the Gospel story of the multiplication of the loaves that the disciples complain that they don’t have enough money to buy enough read for the crowd. Jesus, as the Living Word overruled that objection by speaking his gratitude for what he had and served the people. Yeah, that was really great. But what about the rest of us? Do we not all deserve a miracle? And if not, don’t we all at least deserve our Daily Bread?

Jesus’ famous comment that “the poor shall be always with you” placed against this backdrop of the Loaves and Fishes creates a cognitive dissonance. Is Jesus admitting that the existence of the “poor” was something that just had to be? Did Jesus place this quote in resignation? Did he misunderstand the capacity of self-interest people have? Did he just get it all wrong? Were these words even spoken by Jesus?

Maybe the “Poor will always be with us” because we have accepted this judgment as “the way things are.” I mean, if Jesus says so, who’s to argue? If Jesus could have expounded on that, maybe he would have said something about the human being’s unlimited, relentless sense of self-interest and abuse. What Jesus did seem to realize was that the people were faced with scarcity and did not have enough common sense not to travel long distances without food. And while the myth offers an alternative to the abusive, self-interested path of economic Darwinism and Capitalism by providing food for all in the name of “service,” with the principle of equality and oneness is fully realized as everyone was fed and miraculously, along with a ginormous amount of “leftovers.”

2000 years of Christianity has not moved the human race past this one point: that all are Children of God and thus deserve a life befitting a Child of God. If we have not moved from the fear of not having enough fucking money to buy bread, then when will we?

This isn’t the blog I intended to write. I wanted to write something that linked the Miracle of the Loaves and Fish with the Living Principle of Equality and Oneness, but nothing relevant or practical is coming up. Now all I’ve done is plunge myself into a slight depression.

MONEY CREATES SCARCITY AND POWER

In the South African Sunday Times August 2, 2009, there appeared an article written by Jacklyn Cock with the headline, “Stand up to those who profit from our daily bread.” The article claims that massive profiteering on the part of the producers and distributors of bread at the expense of the poor. The price of bread has increased 41% since last year which is “devastating to the working class.” In 2007 Tiger Brands was fined nearly one million rand which then later coincidentally increased their prices citing “higher wheat costs.” Lack of bread appears to be Power. Who controls the Bread controls the People. I wonder if this ever occurred to Jesus, and if it did, why didn’t he do more about it?

So, since God, Moses, Elisha, Mahamet, Buddha, Shiva, Yahweh (or those who stand in their place, you know, the great, stateless corporations) is not going to share equally as Jesus did in that nameless desert 2000 years ago. we are going to have to do it ourselves.

1894. Philadelphia. Emma Goldman was standing trial after addressing a labor rally. The offending words? “Ask for work. If they do not give you work, ask for bread. If they do not give you work or bread, take bread.”

Her friend and fellow anarchist, Voltairine De Cleyre gave a lecture to the court in Goldman’s defense. In it she spoke:

“When Cardinal Manning wrote: “Necessity knows no law, and a starving man has a natural right to his neighbor’s bread,” who thought of arresting Cardinal Manning? His was a carefully written article in the FORTNIGHTLY REVIEW. Who read it? Not the people who needed bread. Without food in their stomachs, they had no fifty cents to spend for a magazine. It was not the voice of the people themselves asserting rights. No one for one instant imagined that Cardinal Manning put himself at the head of ten thousand hungry men to loot the bakeries of London. It was a piece of ethical hair-splitting to be discussed in after-dinner speeches by the wine-muddled gentlemen who think themselves most competent to consider such subjects when their dress-coats are spoiled by the vomit of gluttony and drunkenness. But when EMMA GOLDMANN stood in Union Square and said, “if they do not give you work or bread then take bread”, the common people heard her gladly and as of old the wandering carpenter of Nazareth addressed his own class, teaching throughout all Jewry, stirring up the people against the authorities, so the dressmaker of New York addressing the unemployed working-people of New York, was the menace of the depths of society, crying in its own tongue. The authorities heard and were afraid: therefore the triple wall.”

Goldman spent the next 12 months in prison “for talking,” as she would later say.

It’s just a shame that we do not live in a world of Miracles or in a world where something like bread is freely given to all or when all enjoy equal access TO the money to BUY bread. Unfortunately, we live in a world where action is required. More unfortunately, we will all have to suffer equally before we will act as equals. It is the height of shame and wonder that we refuse to act towards something so basic in compassion and common sense. Fortunately, that suffering must inevitably come for all, equal and one.

—————

[1]The story of the Loaves and Fishes apparently has its roots in an older Old Testament figure of the prophet Elisha. Actually, scholars and skeptics who insist that the historical Jesus never existed point to the miracles of Elisha in the second book of Kings, where Elisha performs many of the same miracles that Jesus is said to have done. For instance, in 2 Kings, with only 20 loaves of barley, Elisha feeds 100 men, saying, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, “They shall eat and have some left.”

Both Elisha and Jesus had students that followed them and both challenged the political and religious status quo and performed similar miracles that included bringing the dead back to life, cleansing lepers, and walking on water. Also both began their teachings at the River Jordan through succession: Elijah gave his mantle to Elisha while John the Baptist consecrated Jesus there. Even the names are very similar in meaning: Eli Sha (God Salvation) and Yah Shua (Lord Salvation). There are many instances where the Gospel “writers” lifted whole passages and stories from the OT – often word-for-word – and attributed them to Jesus who would have much more grander miracles to prove that he was Son of God. These textual shenanigans (and there are many) make it extremely difficult to know which stories of Jesus are actually true.

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