Editor’s note: This is the fourth post in a series commenting on the first words of Christ as presented in the Gospels.
It is written,“One does not live by bread alone.” (Lk 4:4)
With our modern dietary aversion to gluten and carbohydrates, bread has fallen on some hard times. The full weight of these first words of the adult Jesus from Luke’s Gospel may be lost on us. Maybe they just prophesy bread’s relegation from its place of honor as the foundation of the food pyramid to the sidelines of the food plate. In the last century, bread consumption plummeted even in France, where baking professor Raymond Calvel identified the culprit: new short cuts in the baking process were oxidizing the dough, eliminating flavor and making the end-product more difficult to digest.
But if gluten is hard for us to swallow, the alternative Jesus offers may seem even worse: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Fittingly, these first words of the Word of God are themselves a quote from God’s word in the book of Deuteronomy. However, this presents us with a difficulty: there are things in the Bible that are unpalatable to our modern sensibilities, to say the least. Just a chapter before the beautiful verse Jesus quotes, the Israelites are told to put seven nations under the ban: to destroy them without pity! Especially when the winning, baking, and eating of bread (in a wider sense) takes up about two-thirds of our waking hours, leaving little time for anything else, why should we think that spending time with these ancient words will bring us life?
As for the bread that perishes, Professor Calvel offered a revolutionary solution: mix the water and flour and give it some time to sit, let the gluten structure develop and relax, let the heap of dough become a unity. From this idea, a bread renaissance was born, and perhaps the allure of a more literal life-from-bread-alone was revived for some: passionate Portland baker Ken Forkish, in one of my favorite bread books, offers an amusing description of the rigorous daily routine in his bakery, which must begin at 3:30 AM in order to give the baguette dough time to develop its flavor and rise.
Like dough, the words of Scripture need time to sit in the soul flooded with grace. Only after they have been received in faith, kept and pondered in the heart, do the words of God begin to show their unity in the Word of God, revealing to us the face of Jesus Christ.
As a teenager, one of my friends began slowly reading the Bible from Genesis on, sometimes writing her thoughts in the margins: “That’s wrong!” However, by the time she finished Revelation several years later, she could look back at those marginal notes and laugh; through the words of Scripture, which she continued to receive with at least a mustard seed of faith, God had slowly changed her heart, conforming her to His Word by grace.
The living and active Word of God, Jesus Christ, is sharper than any two-edged sword and is always ready to invade your heart, putting all evil there under the ban, to make it His dwelling place. Fortunately, to welcome Him it is not necessary to keep the 3:30 AM vigils of Portland bakers. Yet, if they take such delight in working early hours for the bread that perishes, how much more should we cherish a few minutes each day to soak up the words that reveal to us the Bread that endures for eternal life. Once we’ve come to know Jesus Christ through the Scriptures, we can truly say with the psalmist: “Thou hast put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Ps 4).
Image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., Like Leaven in the Dough (used with permission)