At least 30 years ago I was reading an article about the situation in Palestine. I don’t really need to reread it, the situation in Palestine is exactly the same today. The reporter had interviewed a resident and was asking them about how he got along in such a war-torn part of the world. There were then, as now, various Palestinian factions as well as the Israeli military that would be in control of where he lived at various times. The man said it was best to be in favor of whoever had a tank parked outside his house. This seemed, and still does, like very good advice. Then the man said something that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “As for me I’m for God and a bag of flour”.
Set aside the stunning differences in expectations between his world and ours, it was a deeply impactful statement because he, in the midst of the conflict he experienced, expressed a simple desire to worship God as his conscience informed him and to have enough food to feed his family. This in a real way ties in with the Gospel text from last week John 3: 1-17, which I discussed here. This contains the very famous “for God so loved the world…” verse. It also ties into this Sunday’s text which I commented on here. One of the overriding messages of Jesus’s ministry is that He is here for everyone. The quote from this Palestinian man from so long ago highlights one of the bases of this truth.
We Really Are All the Same
The reality that this man expressed is that when it all comes down to it, we are really looking for the same things out of life. We want to live as our faith informs us, and do so peaceably. We want at least enough material comfort to provide for ourselves and our loved ones. When you put aside all the cultural, tribal, linguistic differences, this is what it comes down to, God and a bag of flour. This is a concrete realization that not only does God love the world, but that the world is overwhelmingly united it what it seeks from this life. This should not surprise us. After all, we are all made in the image of God, so why would we think there is something radically different about others.
This is the underlying reality that Jesus points us toward when He teaches that we are to treat one another as we would wish to be treated, and to love one another the way God loves us. It is because the highest human ideals (for all of us) are actually quite simple-God and a bag of flour.
It is part of our sinful nature to forget or intentionally ignore this unifying desire of humans for God and a bag of flour that underlies our ability to slaughter one another. We convince ourselves that “they” are not like us. “They” think differently, and “they” are wired up in a way that makes them less than human. Once convinced of this, we may go merrily on our way to slaughter them, sometimes horrifyingly in the name of God.
In a haunting song about war, named John Brown, Bob Dylan wrote a damning line “But the thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close And I saw that his face looked just like mine. Oh! Lord! Just like mine!” This is the reality that warmongers want us to forget-that the enemy looks just like us. As that wise Palestinian reminded me so long ago, we all just want God and a bag of flour. If that is what we want, we in the name of God, should not forget that is what the “other” wants as well.
A Lenten Pledge
This Lent as we journey toward the Cross, let us pledge to remember that the vast majority of humanity is striving for the same thing; the worship of God and enough food to feed our families. If we keep this reality firmly in front of us, we will have done much to turn ourselves toward God and respond in an appropriate manner to the gifts of God’s grace upon grace.
We will find ourselves recommitting to the idea that we should at all times wage peace in the name of the Prince of Peace. We do this first, because Jesus went to the Cross in sacrifice for us to place within us the faith that saves. Second, we do this because at the end of the day, we are far more united in our common hopes and desires than in anything that may divide us. Jesus understood this, He taught us this, and in the end died and rose for this. We are all His children-let us remember this as we all go about our day in search of God and a bag of flour.
Praise Be to God