“I don’t preach a social gospel; I preach the gospel, period.
The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person.
When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, ‘Now is that political or social?’
He said, ‘I feed you.’ Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.”
These words from Archbishop Desmond Tutu have long inspired me. They haunt me, as well, because they stand as an unflinching challenge to demonstrate our faith through works. I hear echoes of Saint James’ “faith without works is dead” (2:17, cf. 2:26). James specifies the sort of work he means when he says, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what good is that?” (2:15-16). “Daily food,” points directly to Jesus’ “give us today our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11; Luke 11:3).
The good news—the gospel—is bread. What is it about this simple staple, that it stands as emblematic of nourishment, both bodily and spiritual? In the book of Exodus, we hear of God feeding the Hebrews in the desert with “bread from heaven” (16:4). The Hebrew word “manna” literally means “what is it?” (מָ֣ןה֔וּא, or “mān hū”), and the text seems to imply that “what it is” is some sort of quail droppings! (16:13). But the word that God uses for this gift is “bread.”
And, of course, at the “last supper,” the Passover meal that Jesus Christ shared with his disciples, Jesus broke bread and gave it for all to eat, saying, “This is my body.” He instructing them to eat it “for the remembrance of me”—words that harken back to the first Passover supper, when the Hebrews prepared to escape their enslavement in Egypt. God instructed them to eat unleavened bread to mark that “day of remembrance” (12:14)! The words “remembrance” and “bread” are not used arbitrarily. Rather, they point to the constancy of God’s presence and love throughout God’s relationship with us.
What is your “bread”? I am actually asking two questions here. First, what is the bread that you need? What is it that nourishes you, body and soul, and what do you hunger for? If James, or Bishop Desmond, or I were to ask you how we can be Christ for you, how would you respond? And how would you, in receiving or getting to share this nourishment, remember the largess that is the sacrifice and the eternal life of Jesus Christ?
And second, what is the bread that you have? What are your God-given gifts with which you can feed the hearts and spirits (and yes, bodies) of your sisters and brothers? How do you feel called to serve Christ by serving others—and how do you respond to that call? We are each extended an invitation from God to love God by loving one another. In that invitation is the promise that your faith and your relationship with Jesus will take root, grow, and blossom through your responses. And it also contains the assurance that this call is wholly for your benefit, and never for your condemnation. Serve as you are able, and know that there is no such thing as “not good enough” in God’s eyes. You are loved as you are, and God, through the Holy Spirit, will continue to invite and encourage you; and next time, and the time after that, you will serve more fully, more passionately, more neighborly. And each time you will find that your faith has grown a bit stronger, your heart a bit larger, and your love a bit more fearless.
Next month we celebrate “God’s Work. Our Hands.” Sunday (also known as “Rally Sunday”), a day for us to commit our lives to serving others. As we prepare our hearts for this day, let us be nourished by the living bread, the body of Christ. And let us use that nourishment to be Christ’s body, using our hands (and minds and hearts and souls) to do God’s work for the benefit of the world. Saint Francis of Assisi advises us to, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” May our works be our proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. And may that good news…be your bread.