It’s Not about the Bread
Jesus said to the disciples, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They said to one another, “It is because we have brought no bread.” Jesus said, “How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread?” – Matthew 16:6-7 & 11 (NRSV)
Metaphors might be my favorite part of language: putting two ideas alongside one another, or having one object stand in for another, and allowing the literary concoction to brew new insights.
Jesus is bread. Bread is sustenance. The Pharisees and Sadducees also have bread (or at least, the makings of it). Bread is food. Bread is not food. Bread can be manipulated. So can people. So can religion. So can metaphor.
For all the fun of metaphor, its revelations depend upon context, and context needs our attention if we hope to understand – understand metaphors, understand each other. What makes a loaf of bread different in nourishment than the Bread of Life? How does hunger change the value of bread/Bread? What makes the yeast of the Pharisees bad for bread-making, bad for eating, bad for living?
Truth be told, Jesus probably is hungry in this moment, but still his point is not about the bread. It’s about where we place our trust. Bread is simply the metaphor.
Likewise the Sadducees and Pharisees are sincere in setting religious rules to guide a community’s shared interests, but community living isn’t really about rules. It’s about whether we have one another’s interests at heart. Rules are our metaphor for other- and self-interest.
Likewise when you are angry, but the argument at hand isn’t the only point of contention. It’s also about how the pain behind it is being provoked. The argument is the bread that soothes (or masks or translates) the pain.
We live together in metaphors, sometimes saying what we mean, sometimes meaning what we say, and always in need of learning so much more about the motivations and contexts that uniquely shape us.
Even when I’ve eaten my fill of bread, O Life, there’s still so much I don’t know. Teach me to be discerning of yeast and motivation, of bread and assumption, of the hungers that compel our relationships.
Rachel Hackenberg serves on the national staff for the United Church of Christ. She is the author of Writing to God and the co-author of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice, among other titles. Her blog is Faith and Water.