Gn 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10
So there I was one evening, preparing a nice pasta dinner for my wife and myself. Water was in the pot, just coming to a boil, almost ready for the penne pasta. Onions had been chopped and sautéed, garlic crushed and added to the onion, meat browned with the onions and garlic, tomatoes poured into the pan, all ready to make a nice meat sauce to go with the penne. I turned back to the pantry to get a can of tomato paste, looked in, looked again, looked again, then I began to curse my stupidity. No tomato paste, none, not even a little. I cannot make this sauce without tomato paste! No choice but to risk turning everything off, run to the store, get a can of tomato paste, and hope the whole meal isn’t ruined. If this happens once, it’s a nuisance. A couple of weeks later the very same thing happened again. Now you begin to question your competence, both as a cook and as a human being. How could I forget exactly the same ingredient, a key ingredient, not once but twice? Anybody else aware of this lapse on my part might start questioning my competence as well. They may even begin to “help me out,” reminding me that I forgot this before, all of this leading me nowhere but to self-doubt. If that continues I’m on the road to a self-fulfilling prophecy, I expect to fail, so I will. I’m obviously not competent, I obviously can’t do this right.
In the Gospel reading today the twelve are on a boat with Jesus. They look for food and suddenly discover, they forgot to bring bread. One loaf, all these men on this boat and all they have is one loaf of bread. I’m sure they began to question themselves, how could we have gotten on this boat with just one lousy loaf of bread? Especially considering that they had just left from Jesus feeding 4,000 people and they had picked up seven baskets full of leftovers. They must have begun to question their competence. If they were incompetent in such a small thing maybe in the bigger things, like following Jesus, well maybe they were missing the boat there as well. Jesus then warns, beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. Since they forgot bread, and Jesus was talking about leavening, he must be deriding them for forgetting the bread. They, once again however, missed the point. Bread is not the point at all. Competence isn’t the issue. Trust, trust is the issue. The Pharisees and Herod sought to undermine Jesus, fearing his growing popularity. That is the leaven, the subtle spread of fear, of mistrust. The twelve were in danger of being infected by that leaven. They forgot what had just happened, they forgot who they were with, they forgot about Jesus. They forgot that as long as they were with Jesus they had nothing to fear. Even their failures were no reason to despair.
When it comes to doing the right thing, really trying to follow Jesus, we can begin to question our competence. Too often we try, and fail, and fail, and fail again. We can easily begin to despair, to become sure we can never live up to what we expect of ourselves, we’ll always forget the bread. But we forget who we are with. The issue isn’t bread or competence or fear or doing the right thing, the issue is trust. Remember who you are with, and let yourself be fed.
Tuesday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time
Feb. 13, 2007