A Little Bit of Leaven

Once upon a time, a Jewish momma baked some bread.

She ground the barley.  She added some leavening starter, a little salt, a handful of lentils, and some water in the evening.  Early the next morning, it had risen in the bowl.  She took out the dough, shaped it into a handful of loaves, and asked her daughter to set them near the hot coals to bake.  An hour later, her husband and oldest son came in with their haul from an overnight fishing trip.  Most of their modest catch would go to market, but a few of the smaller ones were gutted, salted, and hung to dry for the family’s own use later.  The men wiped their fishy hands and tore hungrily into a hunk of fresh bread.  “A bit dry this time,” the husband commented mildly, receiving a swat from momma’s dishrag in response.  His son grinned at his father as they finished chewing, and then washed it down with a batch of thin yogurt courtesy of the goats momma and the girls milked twice a day.  Sustained, they rose from their meal to work on mending some nets before catching a nap in preparation for the next night of fishing.  Momma handed the one year old a crust to practice his toothless gums on, then she bustled about, cleaning crumbs, throwing blankets out over the clothesline to air, and prepping her market list for tomorrow’s shopping trip.  The remaining bread was pushed into a basket unceremoniously.

Momma didn’t know that bread would be famous by the next day.

cupcakes
blessings in frosting

In the aftermath of childbirth, I came home tired and a bit sore.  My other children greeted me joyfully before dumping a pile of books on my lap to be read, tipping a jug of milk all over the floor, and showing me a dried footprint from where they’d been climbing on the walls while I was gone.  And asking for food.  Ah, home sweet home.  Grandma and Daddy tag-teamed the first week or two to keep everyone alive and in mostly clean clothes.  We went through more cereal than we had for months previous.  Transitions can be good, but they’re still rough.  Especially around dinner time, I was most tired, the kids were most wired, the baby most awake, and the house messiest.

So it blessed my momma heart when a handful of other mommas (and their husbands) around me offered to make dinners for over a week after Finlay joined the family.  They knew; every single one of them had been through childbirth at least twice (most had 3, 4, or even 5 kids!)  They were busy too with their own marriages and children (though I’m sure they’re all less cranky than mine), they had their own food budgets, their own daily worlds to keep spinning.  But they went out of their way to do a very practical thing to help keep my little world from tipping too far off its axis.

In some ways, it’s just a little thing.  A meal.  A meatloaf.  Some noodles.  Warm stew.  A plate of cookies.  Salad.  They make food for their own families, a daily labor of love and butter that generally goes unnoticed and unthanked.  It’s one of the most basic and assumed facets of the motherhood career, the daily physical sustenance of their household.

Well, that day long ago when that momma was going about her daily ablutions and baking that bread, Jesus was not far way.  He was busy too, spending the day teaching hungry people about the Bread of Life.  He was offering living water to dehydrated souls.  He renewed broken bodies, refreshed tired minds, fed hope to the weary.  But He wasn’t baking bread for them.

He left that to the professional.

Those calloused, veined, unsuspecting momma hands dumped five loaves and a couple dried fish in a pouch as her son ran out the door to go see Jesus.  She watched at the door as the pouch bumped against his legs, flattening the loaves and breaking fragments of the crispy fish.  Then she returned to her daily work, unaware what great things God had used her humble hands for that day.  Her hands changed diapers, hugged a friend when she stopped by, swatted the toddler’s backside when he didn’t mind her, scrubbed the sweaty, fish-scaled cloak her husband wore in the boat on rainy nights, smoothed a young daughter’s flyaway hair.  But several hours later, as Jesus stood on the hillside with the contents of her son’s food pouch held in His own, it was that momma’s hands that He asked His Father to bless for preparing their feast.

It was her bread that Jesus handed to His disciples.  It was her bread that fed over five thousand men.  It was her bread that many other hungry mommas and children ate as they sat on that hillside with Jesus.  It was the excess of her bread that overflowed a dozen baskets after everyone was full – of her bread.

She sat down in surprise when her son told her about his day with Jesus.  She breathed in sharply, thinking of the thousands who ate the humble meal she’d thrown together for her family.  Now she really wondered if the batch had been too dry!  This simple fare, the recipe she’d perfected over years of daily practice and necessity, had just been used to sustain so many of both her neighbors and complete strangers.

She had simply been about her daily business, her act of love for her family that they all took for granted.

And in so doing, she’d fed the Son of God.

She’d given a feast to satisfy both beggars and rich men.

She’d relaxed other mommas worried about their own families’ hunger.

Her simple chore had an impact of Biblical proportions.  All four gospel writers mentioned it; thousands of preachers have since expounded on it, billions of folks down through history have heard the story of that simple meal.

Maybe, Momma, you didn’t consider your weeknight chicken and potatoes could be epic.  You didn’t know your humble pie was at the level of gospel truth.  You wouldn’t have believed your basic quiche could impact generations.  You couldn’t see how that pinch of yeast would rise bread high enough to touch heaven.  You didn’t know that the glass of water you poured for the least of these was accepted by Jesus Himself.  You simply did what you do every day, loving your family tangibly through cheese and broccoli, making enough extra to share.  But God can make your meatloaf into someone’s miracle.

A plate of tacos can go a long way in God’s kingdom.

Thanks mommas.  Jesus said you could be the salt of the earth.  Literally.  Keep cooking.  May your noodles be blessed.

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