02 September 2013

The Parable of the Bread

She entered the classroom that day, weary and hungry. She didn't look any different than any of the others, nicely dressed and sitting quietly waiting for the class to start. But what they couldn't see was that she hadn't had enough to eat for days. She did her best to put a good face on it, to smile and chat politely. But every so often, she knew her hunger was visible to those not wholly lost in their own lives.  It confused them, and she could see their discomfort, so she picked up the Bible and began to read.

The instructor walked to the front, and the most tantalizing aroma wafted by as he passed . . . that of freshly-baked, homemade bread. He placed the box he'd carried on the table up front, and began placing one fabric-wrapped bundle after another on it, filling the entire tabletop. He unwrapped the fabric on the first to reveal the biggest, most lovely, most aromatic loaf of bread he had ever seen. It had just been sliced, and a few pieces tipped over, letting out yet more steam and filling the room with its fragrance. Then the instructor did the same for the other bundles, and there was bounty--enticing, delicious, and nourishing--more than enough for everyone there to eat their fill with plenty left over.

"Today, class, we're going to talk about bread," the instructor began, excited for his topic. The entire class paid rapt attention, feeling the delicious pull of the bread's promise.

"First, let's talk about the history of bread making." He explained some of history of bread, a little of the science behind fermentation and sourdough culture, and why it was such a perfect food for mankind. She grew hungrier and hungrier, trying her best to listen. A wonderful teacher, his presentation was engaging and interesting. But it couldn't compete with the demands of her stomach, which had begun to cramp in earnest.

"Now, class, I want you to imagine how wonderful bread tastes, and think carefully about the best bread you've ever eaten." A few moments passed, and he continued, "Now, we're going to break out into small groups, and talk about our favorite experiences with bread." She managed a pathetic smile as she turned her chair and joined the circle of class members that had been assigned to her. She listened to their stories, many of them heart-warming and wonderful. She spoke about her own memories of deep nourishment, but felt like her intense hunger separated her from them somehow. They'd glimpsed it again as she spoke, and she saw their discomfort plainly. They didn't connect with her the way they connected with one another.  She was talking about something completely different, something vital to her existence, while they shared anecdotes and asides.  They had spoken about all of the great varieties of bread they'd gotten at various stores in town. Bread with fewer calories than usual, or made with ingredients they couldn't pronounce (they mentioned it, chuckling), but that tasted so good they didn't care what was in it, and how much they craved it, even after eating their fill. They didn't know the kind of bread she tried to speak of--the very kind of bread still sitting up at the front of the classroom. Bread she had discovered with my own hands, that she knew well, and had nourished and filled her many times before. She even reminded them of the aroma of the bread up front, but they could no longer smell it.  While they agreed it smelled divine, it didn't seem to mean anything to them.

"Okay, class, let's hear what you learned in your groups," the instructor called out. Each group chose a spokesman, and for nearly the rest of the period she listened to recaps of each group's discussion. There were more good stories, some spiritual, some warm-fuzzy, some interesting, others intellectual. And still, the bread waited on the table. Her mouth had gone dry from all its watering, and the cramping in her stomach had finally eased, replaced with a dull nausea.

"Thank you so much, everyone, for your participation today," the instructor said as the last spokesman sat down. "I'd like to take this opportunity to bear my testimony of bread, and its importance in our lives; to give thanks to the man who drives the delivery truck bringing bread to our store every week, to the miracle of the truck itself, that we can have so much bread delivered so often, so those new to bread making could still enjoy bread every day, to the advertisers who go out and devotedly find new people hungering for bread, and most of all to the dispatcher who directs every driver in every truck worldwide, ensuring everyone gets the same bread each week . . . "

The instructor closed with a heartfelt, tearful testimony of the bread sitting on the table. Of its delicious flavor, the perfect composition of the ancient wheat that wouldn't make anyone sick, even celiacs. Of how much it had blessed his life, and how much he hoped we would search it out, taste it, and know for ourselves the goodness of it.

And as he spoke, she realized she would not be offered even a tiny taste the bread. While it was there, begging them all to take, eat, and be filled, it never crossed the instructor's mind that feasting would be the only way for his class to understand everything he said, to fill them with a powerful desire to feast again and again, and to share it with any and everyone who would accept it.  Instead, he had used up the precious class time in discussion, distracting the class with issues peripheral to the bread . . . and she began to wonder if he had ever really tasted it, himself.

He sat down, the closing prayer was said, and the students were ushered out. She walked slowly away, her arms a poor comfort, wrapped around her still-queasy middle.

(Please note: This is a parable.  I used female pronouns for the student in order to more easily differentiate the student from the instructor. I am not, nor have I ever been, personally short of food.  Thank you.)