Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Proverbs 12:11 --- A New Way of Seeing

Proverbs 12:11
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
    but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.
Have you ever noticed in the Gospels how literal and dense Jesus' disciples are, particularly when it comes to bread?  Our Lord's mind moves quickly from the symbol of bread to spiritual and heavenly things:

From bread to the Word of God: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).
From bread to teaching: "'How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matthew 16:11-12).

From bread to the will of God: "Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, 'Rabbi, eat.' But he said to them, 'I have food to eat that you do not know about.' So the disciples said to one another, 'Has anyone brought him something to eat?' Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work'" (John 4:31-34).           

From bread to himself: "Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' Jesus then said to them, 'Truly,    truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my      Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world'" (John 6:31-33).

What's remarkable is that the disciples' eyes, and our eyes, are finally opened at a meal that is all about the breaking of bread.  It is this meal that opens our eyes to the sacramental nature of the world the triune God has made, a world designed for men's eyes to move from earth to his glorious Son in heaven, and back again.  The breaking of bread is the breaking of our enslavement to the literal and to this present evil age.  Note the repetition of broke/breaking:

"When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. . . . Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24:30-31, 35).

I suppose we could look at today's proverb and just look at how to make literal bread and lots of it!  But what worries me is that in so doing, we would just be perpetuating the literalism and denseness Jesus came to cure.  But even our proverb itself is trying to move us from earth to heaven and from the literal to the spiritual, especially in the second comparison. 

The first comparison is between "works his land" and "follows worthless pursuits."  On a literal level, "works his land" means that the farmer must do the hard work of ploughing, planting and harvesting if he wants a good harvest.  Hard work will pay off in "plenty of bread."  But if a person gets distracted with empty things, probably easy money and get-rich-quick schemes, the result will be, not a lack of bread, which is what we would expect, but a lack of sense, or more literally, a lack of heart! 

Do you see what the proverb is doing?  By making the second contrast between "plenty of bread" and "lack of sense/heart" the proverb is trying to help us see beyond the literal to the spiritual!  This proverb is not just advice to the farmer, or even to all of us about working hard at our vocations.  It includes that counsel, but it includes so much more, which Christ's coming ought to help us see.

In the New Testament, the land has been Christified.  The Old Testament concept of living in the land has been transformed to living in Christ.  We are to live in Christ, and we are to "follow" him, not empty and "worthless pursuits."  And our pursuit of our Lord ought to be intense.  It is Christ we are to seek above all things: "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God" (Colossians 3:1).

What we will find if we pursue Christ, living in him and following him?  We will find Jesus gives us a new way of seeing, a way of seeing that truly satisfies us, a way of seeing that enables us to see his glory and eventuates in the beatific vision.  Jesus will be more than enough for us.  He will be our daily Bread.  He will be the Bread that is enough for us in the wilderness of this world.

Do you remember the invariable issue before Jesus' miraculous meals in the wilderness?  The question always revolved around the word or concept of enough (Matthew 14:15-17; 15:33; Mark 6:37, 8:4; Luke 9:13, John 6:7; cf. John 14:8).  The seven and twelve baskets left over gave us the answer to that question.  Jesus is enough for his people in the wilderness of this world!  He's enough for us individually (seven baskets), and for his church (twelve baskets).  He will meet and satisfy every need we have in his wisdom, goodness, and power. 

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