Reflections by Jerry Webber

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Loaf That's in the Boat: Trusting What's within You

Mark 8:14 - 17

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread. They had only one loaf with them in the boat.

"Be careful," Jesus warned them. "Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees. And watch out for the yeast of Herod."

They talked about this with each other. They said, "He must be saying this because we don't have any bread."

Jesus knew what they were saying. So he asked them, "Why are you talking about having no bread? Why can't you see or understand? Are you stubborn?"

This passage is a head-scratcher. Read straight through with a literal mind, it raises questions.

The disciples of Jesus forgot to bring bread . . . but there was a loaf of bread in the boat with them.

The disciples said, "We don't have any bread," . . . but there was a loaf in the boat with them.

Jesus said, "Why are you talking about having no bread? Why can't you see or understand?" . . . because there was a loaf in the boat with them.

At one level, this takes the dullness of these disciples of Jesus to a new level. Are they really such slackers that they can't even see the one loaf they have in the boat? Are they truly that unobservant?

I think the story may have other levels of meaning for us. The Gospels, after all, are always working on us at multiple levels. Certainly, there is a way of looking at the obvious meaning of the text, at what it says right there at surface level. But there are also levels of meaning which must be uncovered. Part of the work of prayer is to listen more deeply, to hear some of the subterranean rumblings in a given passage with the ear of the heart.

Early Christians understood many of the "boat" stories in the four Gospels as stories that described both their personal lives and their life together as the people of God. For instance, in the story of the disciples on the stormy sea, the Church saw herself as that boat drifting amidst a stormy society which was trying to eliminate the followers of Christ. Their experience with the Roman Empire colored their understanding of the text. They became the boat, lonely and against the odds of wind and wave. But in that story, Jesus walked out to the boat, he came to them in the dark of night.

Further, "bread" is an image for sustenance and nourishment. A single loaf of bread may hearken back to the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness who were fed manna each day. There was only enough for that day, then the next day they had to go out and collect it again. On top of that, Jesus taught us to pray for "daily bread," no more and no less. This daily bread is enough and it is provided. God gives what is sufficient for the day.

So you might say that these disciples had in their boat "daily bread," enough for that moment.

So imagine for a moment that in the Mark 8:14-17 text, the boat stands for the Church or for the lives of those who follow Christ. There is a loaf of bread in the boat that represents what they have within themselves. You would think they could notice what was already present to them, but they do not.

Instead, the disciples lament that they did not bring more bread. This is consistent with how they are portrayed often in the Scriptures. For example, they want to feed hungry crowds by "going to buy" bread in the outside world. When Jesus says, "YOU give them something to eat," they have no idea what to give the hungry people. While they want to find resources in the outside world to give people ("go and buy bread"), Jesus wants them to give of the resources they already have within themselves ("you give them something to eat").

I think this little story in Mark 8 is about the inner resources that the followers of Christ have. The story seems to say, "There is a loaf within the boat, but you have to recognize it and acknowledge that it is present."

Most all of us are like the disciples, not recognizing the resources that God has placed within us already. We are continually looking in the outside world for something that will make us complete, that will help us achieve our goals, that will make us "more" of what we think God wants us to be. We read books and attend classes and go to conferences and try to be faithful to our congregation, trying desperately to get what we think we need.

I wonder if God might be saying to me or to any of us: "What is within you already is enough. You just need to uncover it and trust it. Enough has been given. Look within. Let the connection you have with Me grow, deepen, strengthen. You have a loaf in your boat. You don't need someone else's loaf. Your boat doesn't need to look like someone else's boat. Trust what you have. Trust what I've given you."

That may be the biggest part . . . trusting what I already have. In spiritual conversations with folks, I find that many people don't find it nearly as hard to trust God as to trust themselves, to trust that they hear God, that they are connected to God in unbreakable ways, that they can be loved, that they have a vocation and a life to offer in the world. We don't trust what God is doing within us. We don't trust those things about ourselves. We may see it in others, but we often don't trust it in ourselves.

So here's a word about trusting what's within you, trusting your inner resources. I doubt that you'll ever find anything in the external world that will make you complete, if you can't first of all embrace what is within you, what has been given already.

You have a loaf in your boat.


Kathryn Kelley said...

all I keep hearing in my head is "loafing around"

on quick google I did see the source of the word. meaning--lack of activity, usually an avoidance of work. dreaming and future casting and moving toward calling I know are being avoided when I catch myself internally loafing. I got hmg up on the bread thing.

Anonymous said...

Overwhelming gratitude for your blog entry!

I have for too long listened to the messages of “not measuring up”, “you could do better” and “you are not enough” that the world speaks into my life. And because I am a ‘One’ on the Enneagram, the Perfectionist, the default motivation behind how I move in life is growing and learning new things, improving things, getting things right.

“God trusts in you more than you trust in yourself.” My life has been immeasurably blessed by my spiritual director who has spoken these words into my life in a number of different ways on more than one occasion during conversations for many years now.

It is so hard for me to hear these words. It is such a very slow process unlearning what has become natural to me and learning who I am created to be. To give myself over moment by moment and day by day to listening to something beautifully different about my self, trusting more in this God that I follow and what He is doing in me.

Thanks for the reminder of having a loaf in my boat.