This is the third in a series of weekly reflections through the season of Lent, written by Bobby Gross, who contributed the reflections for this past Advent Season. The first appeared on Ash Wednesday. You can browse the second reflection here.
When the devil put it in Jesus’s mind to “command” God to turn desert stones into round loaves to satisfy his ravening hunger, he did not bite on the devil’s subversive insinuation (If you are really the Beloved Son…) nor cave to his body’s craving at the expense of his spiritual discipline (What Father would require such deprivation?). In resistance, Jesus quoted from Moses’ warning to the people of Yahweh to not let prosperity displace the centrality of God in their lives: “One does not live by bread alone.” (Deut. 8)
Moses reminds the Israelites about the mysterious manna in the desert, how God had been able and willing to provide for them, how they had learned to fundamentally depend on God’s sustaining grace, how that dependence was practiced daily so that everyone had enough, and no one needed to anxiously horde. God had given them his Word and had fed them with his bread.
Jesus succinctly underscores all of this when he teaches us to pray to our Father: “Give us each day our daily bread.”
During these weeks of Lent, many of us fast. Perhaps we give up breakfast and lunch one day a week; perhaps we forgo specific items of food or drink, desserts, say, or Starbucks coffee. Thereby we remember our creaturely dependence and affirm our spiritual identity over against our physical appetites, especially if our eating or drinking is unhealthy in some way.
Good. But for most of us, this is not difficult. While hunger is real in our nation, I suspect most of us are not actually worried about where our next meal will come from. We go to the grocery store weekly and even eat out once or twice. We ritually give thanks at the beginning of each meal, as we should, but our next repast is rarely in doubt.
But it’s much trickier when it comes to the other cultural meaning of the word “bread”: money.
Jesus had a lot to say about money and possessions. Most of it makes us uncomfortable. If I had to simplify and sum up his teaching on money: don’t horde it, don’t withhold it, don’t worship it. On second thought, not so simple.
Luke 12 pretty much covers it. Someone in the crowd asks Jesus to arbitrate a family inheritance dispute, wanting him to make his brother divide it fairly. Like any sensible person, Jesus will have none of it. But he seizes the moment to instruct the audience: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. For life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Then as usual, he tells a little story about a wealthy person who built a bigger barn to hold all his stuff, while feeling pretty good about himself and his future, only to unexpectedly die and lose it all. The point? “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” Jesus goes on to discourage worry and striving about the material things we need. He underscores God’s generosity and provocatively calls for our generosity: Sell your possessions. Give to the needy. Build up a bank account in heaven. All of this lest your heart belongs more to your assets than to your God.
Read his conversation with a wealthy would-be follower in Luke 18 if you want a vivid sense of how serious Jesus was about greed. Or consider this unsettling excerpt from a sermon on Luke 12 from the fourth century by St. Basil the Great:
Who are the greedy? Those who are not satisfied with what suffices for their own needs? Who are the robbers? Those who take for themselves what rightly belongs to everyone.
The things you received in trust as a stewardship, have you not appropriated them for yourself? The bread you are holding back is for the hungry, the clothes you keep put away are for the naked,…the silver you keep buried in the earth is for the needy. You are thus guilty of injustice toward as many as you might have aided, and did not.
This teaching invites important attitudinal work: Do I regard my economic resources more as gift or as earned reward? Do I think more in terms of stewardship or of ownership? Do I put more trust in my financial security or in my spiritual standing with God? And Lent offers exactly the right time for such self-examination.
But reflection is probably not enough for most of us. Some action is required. According to Jesus, the most telling, the most potent action we could take is giving. Generosity is the antidote to idolatry. We resist hording by giving. We love our neighbors by giving. We put our trust in God by giving.
This year, my wife and I committed ourselves to make a sizeable charitable contribution each of the six weeks of Lent, a total amount beyond our planned annual commitments. We want to strengthen our giving muscles and loosen, at least a little, the hold money has on us. Having already earmarked the funds, we can now take joy in looking for and choosing new places of need—like support for Ukrainians displaced by the war (Lord, have mercy).
I don’t want to succumb to the state described by farmer-poet Wendell Berry:
And so the mind
grows a belly, a sack full
of the thought of more, and the whole
structure of enough, of life itself,
which is never more or less
than enough, falls in pieces.
I don’t want to go to pieces over pieces of silver. I don’t want to be possessed by my possessions.
Rather, I want to be indifferent toward money. I want to be generous toward others. And I want to be rich toward God.
 St. Basil the Great, from the sermon “I Will Tear Down My Barns” on Luke 12:1-16, cited in the journal Comment (Vol. 40, No. 1, Winter 2022), p. 6-7.
 Wendell Berry, This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems (Counterpoint, 2013), p. 316.
About the author:
Bobby Gross has spent his career in campus ministry with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He currently serves as Vice President for the Graduate & Faculty Ministries division. Originally from Columbus, GA, Bobby and his wife Charlene have lived in Gainesville (FL), Miami (FL), New York City, and now Atlanta. He graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a B.A. in American Studies and English Literature and did additional studies in theology at Regent College in Vancouver. Bobby served on the national board of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) for six years. Bobby is the author of Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God. He has also contributed chapters to three other books, including Faith on the Edge (InterVarsity Press) and Signs of Hope in the City (Judson). Bobby has experience in preaching, teaching, and training on a range of subjects including leadership development, vocational stewardship, and spiritual formation. An admitted bibliophile, Bobby also writes poetry and collects contemporary art on religious themes.