Not by Bread Alone

A Letter from Thomas Goetz, serving in Japan

June 2020

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“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4

Dear friends,

It has been about a third of a year since Hokkaido’s first New Coronavirus case appeared. All of our classes are presently online. I haven’t been to a restaurant since March, and I need to plan my haircuts carefully. These are minor inconveniences, and I’m still staying productive. The state of emergency for Hokkaido ended about three weeks ago. At that time, Hokkaido had about 1,080 cases, with 664 in Sapporo. There have been around 90 deaths, with 770 people having recovered enough to go home. The number of new cases in Hokkaido the other day was less than ten. The two underground shopping areas, Pole Town and Aurora Town, have reopened. Sapporo never shut down completely, but many businesses chose to do so on their own, some never to reopen. Many are still running on limited hours, and more will, as people start venturing out more, at least until the next uptick in cases. There is no issue about wearing masks. Almost everyone wears one.

The church that we attend has requested that the older people not attend worship. After careful consideration, my wife and I decided that we are in that age group and are worshipping at home, online. This works for us. We are okay. But not everyone is okay.

We do not live just for ourselves. We are to help others in need. …When we live in a relationship with God, we are mindful of God’s creative power and the community needs around us.

While people’s lives can break down at any time, it is heartbreaking to hear of a meltdown during this time. A westerner, in his mid-fifties, is experiencing heartbreak. His wife of more than ten years, the last five of which were very stressful, recently decided to return to her birth country. He is now raising their elementary school-aged child by himself. In addition to the heartbreak of the separation, the responsibility of providing for his child is heavy. He has a good and steady job but caring for his child is very emotionally demanding and time-consuming. Besides, his child’s Japanese is already better than his, so helping with homework is difficult.

He says that this is the most depressed and anxious he has ever been. While he has been seeing a psychiatrist for help, his treatment is mainly medical. He receives pills and is told to have patience. This is just one man’s story. And he is not alone. When people have such problems, they need more than pills and friendly words. They need community. 

Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus was talking to Satan when he spoke these words. Jesus was responding to a challenge, that if he were the Son of God, then he could certainly change stones to bread. And, after a span of fasting for forty days in the desert, anyone would have a deep physical hunger.

Would it have been wrong to do that? No, but Jesus’ ministry would have been about meeting physical needs; economic needs would have become his primary concern. That did not happen.

Additionally, turning stones to bread and then eating them would have felt good, first to behold, second to touch, third to smell and taste, fourth to savor, and fifth to have and digest. The ability to do this over and over again would be wonderful. But Jesus refused to indulge in what many would regard as gluttony.

“Not by bread alone?”

Jesus was telling Satan about living in community, about living with God. The words, “live by bread alone,” refer to the Exodus, something Satan surely knew about. During that time, Mana, or food, fell from heaven for the Hebrews to eat. Satan, in like manner, was teasing Jesus for a similar miracle. Something like: “If God can do that, you can do this, right?” Unlike the Hebrews who needed a miracle to survive, Jesus didn’t.

Our immediate communities are now redefined by the coronavirus and a growing awareness of the need to change our outlook of people who are different. We need to reshape our familiar ways of going about our daily life and sharing God’s love. This may seem very difficult. … Jesus, however, would say that, with God, anything is possible.

What about the rest: “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”? If people do not read this, it would appear that living by bread alone is not enough. We do not just live for ourselves. We are to help others in need. For example, the Hebrews made sure that those who had a lot had nothing over and those who had little had no lack. Their sharing of their food from heaven was an example of their community. It is from God that we receive the gift of life. God created this world and everything in and around it. And God invites us to be members of a community. To join, we need to enter into a covenant or make a promise. When we live in a relationship with God, we are mindful of God’s creative power and the community’s needs. Satan wanted to break Jesus away from both his community and God. Satan was testing Jesus’ relationship with God. And Jesus answered that we are to belong to God, not to ourselves “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Our immediate communities are redefined by the coronavirus. There is a growing awareness that we need to change our outlook toward people who are different. We need to reshape our familiar ways of going about our daily life and sharing God’s love. This may seem very difficult. Jesus, however, tells us that with God, anything is possible.

Ubi caritas, et amor, Deus ibi est.

Where there is caring and love, God is always there.

Thomas


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