Yesterday morning Peter Prove preached a thought provoking sermon. I suggested two texts from Matthew's gospel as we were preparing the service - Christ's first temptation in Matthew 4 to turn stone into bread and then the passage later in Matthew 7 where Christ says which of you would give your child a stone when asked for bread?
What fascinated me about the way that Peter reflected on these passages is how brilliantly the Bible speaks to itself, and how challenging it is to have as inspiration a book of life which says seemingly contradictory things. What was particularly strange for me is that I had chosen these passages because they seemed to me to be part of the same continuum and ongoing discussion. I had never really thought about the passages as opposing one another. In his sermon Peter linked the two sayings:
In the first reading, Jesus – famished after 40 days and 40 nights of fasting – is tempted by the devil: "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But even in the extremity of his physical hunger, Jesus rebuffs this temptation with the words from Scripture: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." But of course Jesus’ point is not – and cannot be – that food is not necessary.The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance ,which Peter is director of, is running a Lenten campaign on food justice as part of its Fast for Life and Food for Life campaigns. I was struck by the idea about where is it in our world today, in our individual lives that we are trying to turn stones into bread? Treating people and the earth in a way that does not listen to God's word of life, that does not proceed from God's lips? Yesterday morning Peter posed the question like this:
His words in the second reading strike a different note. “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
Bread and fish. Not stones or snakes…
In what ways are we today tempted to unlearn this lesson, and to try to turn stones into bread? Could it be that our artificial fertilizers, nutritional supplements, genetically-modified organisms and other technological fixes all in some way represent our prideful response to the tempter’s ruse? And that in our headlong rush towards agrofuel at the expense of food production, we are succumbing to the opposite but equal temptation – to turn bread into stone?Sixteen years ago I preached with a view in the Temple in Divonne les Bains. I turned up with a stone in my hand to begin my sermon (on the woman taken in adultery ...), later I placed the stone on communion table next to the bread and wine. "Bread not stone" has long, long been one of my favourite refrains - even before I had read Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza - yet thinking once more about these texts makes me wonder whether my focus on bread not stone made me less able to see where sometimes the most life-giving thing is to trust in the word rather than break your teeth on stone.
I'll post a link to Peter's sermon once it goes online, you can find EAA's daily devotions for Lent here, and for now I'll end with his words:
In this Lenten season, what fast shall we choose? And what shall we offer the hungry
children: bread, or stones?