Bread And Roses At Bethany -- By: Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 05:2 (Spring 1991)
Article: Bread And Roses At Bethany
Author: Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen

Bread And Roses At Bethany

Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen

Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies
Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan

A Chapel Meditation on Matthew 26:6-16

Today, March 8, 1991, we are celebrating International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, both of which occur during the pre-Easter season of the church year known as Lent. In both Western and Eastern church traditions Lent is a several week period of sober preparation for Easter — in the past, and in some churches even now, a period during which candidates prepared for baptism. Lent is also associated with penitential fasting, as Christians recall that they, along with the rest of humankind, are the sinners because of whom and for whom Christ died. It is a time during which we remind ourselves, as Jesus reminded the devil during his own wilderness fast, that we do not “live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4 NRSV).

Because International Women’s Day has its roots in the largely-secular history of organized labor and the international socialist movement, we might well conclude that its celebration in the middle of lent is the result of accident rather than design. And yet I discovered during my research for this talk that the motto of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (one of the more militant of the early labor unions) is the phrase “Not By Bread Alone”— the same words with which Moses sent the Israelites into the promised land (Deut 8:3) and by which Jesus rebuked the devil when tempted to break his forty-day fast by changing stones into bread (Matt.4:1-4).

Certainly we are embodied selves, as needful of food, sleep and shelter as the rest of God’s creatures. But if we have only these we will never become what God intended us to be. As sinful people we need God’s grace— that is what penitential Lenten fasting (symbolic or actual) recalls for us. But just as important, we are creatures made in God’s image: created—men and women alike—to be sociable, to exercise responsible dominion over the earth, to express creativity, to enjoy beauty. Although bread is a necessary condition for our survival, it is not a sufficient one. We need roses too.

The founders of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union may indeed have shortened Jesus’ words in their motto with the idea of subtracting God from their world view. But this much they understood from their own Judeo-Christian roots: human beings, regardless of their religion or ideology, become dehumanized if they are made to live by bread alone. Tha...

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