Commentary :: Labor

The Economy of Bread Alone and the Economy of Enough

Jesus' discipleship demands seeing through the economy of bread alone or structural egoism and not submitting.. The economy of bread alone, the economy of hoarding and riches of a few costs the soul and freedom.

By Claudia Janssen and Luise Schottroff

[This dialog Bible study from the 31st Evangelical church day in Koln, Germany, 6/7/2007 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]


Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. But he answered, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will give his angels charge of you, and On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. Jesus said to him, Again it is written, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” Again the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and he said to him, All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me. Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan, for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.


(Luise Schottroff) An unemployed young man, Jesus, from the village of Nazareth, left his family and home. First, he set out to the Jordan, to a wilderness preacher, John. After his baptism, Jesus returned to the mountain of the Judah desert. He knew that God’s spiritual power determined his way after his baptism. In the desert he fasted 40 days and nights. He wanted to open himself completely for God. Satan encountered him when the hunger was overpowering and he was near the end of his strength. The gospels tell us this.

We have strange ideas of Satan today. We think of the cloven hoof and the sulphur odor, a form that only occurs in fairy tales and the Bible. At that time, the power embodying violence and death was called Satan, the violence and death inflicted by people – and yet experienced by people as superior force that seems powerful like God and replaces God. According to the biblical tradition, evil has a form that I can fight. This evil is clearly visible in the wars of the present in the Middle East/Iraq/Israel([search]) and many other countries. War is made by people but cannot be ended by people any more. It has gained a superior force that no one can influence. This man-made superior force tries to gain power over me. The voice of violence can be heard in many opinions. I should learn this message. I should learn to believe in the necessity of war and that violence is inevitable. Satan’s message gains power over me. That transpersonal evil was once called Satan, the devil and demonic power. Thus certain people were not demonized as evil. Satan is a power that I share. I am not innocent of Satan’s power.

Satan confronts Jesus in three temptations with the power of his age. He challenges Jesus. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Jesus is hungry and knows the hunger in everyday life. He comes from a poor family. At that time poverty meant hunger with all its consequences. Abject poverty in the country arose through an economic system that destroyed the little farms. The poor lost their land through over-indebtedness. People were dependent on money and paid labor. But paid labor was very scarce. “Make these stones into bread.” The Judah wilderness is stony. Stones into bread would mean: having unlimited bread, bread for oneself, bread for one’s future and bread for the world.

(Claudia Janssen) “Make the stones into bread.” That would be marvelous. Everyone would be satiated. The hunger of all people would end. As a Bible reader, I know Satan said these words. Therefore I am naturally distrustful and assume they were a trap to “tempt” him. What was the temptation? Would turning stones into bread be wrong? Everyone would be satiated. The desert would become the place of new life. Through a word of Jesus, the problems of humanity would be solved. Didn’t Jesus have this power? Satan is clever. “If you are God’s Son,” – then you could do this. Didn’t the voice from heaven confirm this in his baptism? “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3,17) What is exciting in the figure of the devil is that he speaks very convincingly and is not obviously evil. How can he appear? At the crucifixion, the people cried to Jesus: “Save yourself. If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Matt 27,40) Who is Satan here? For whom does he speak? What motives are hidden behind his words? Envisioning this in our present could be helpful. We have not removed hunger in the world today. We had all the possibilities.

In Asia’s developing countries, many people fell ill with vitamin A deficiency, a serious threat for millions of children and pregnant women. Rice that grows well there could have been sown. The genetic engineering conglomerate Syngenta developed a kind of rice that solves these problems. By changing the genetic make-up, this rice now contains vitamin A. People are healthy and the death rate falls (cf. Can I be against people no longer suffering and dying only because I reject genetic engineering on principle? We have the power to simply overcome hunger if golden rice is grown everywhere.

This isn’t so simple, critical voices say. (cf.’gentechnik/weiternaehrung/artikel/golden_rice_nicht_alles_was_glaenzt_ist_gold/] The problem of vitamin A deficiency could be simply removed with consumption of other traditional kinds of vegetables (for example, sweet potatoes or with very simple inexpensive medicines). The causes of food problems in the affected countries are not inadequate resources. Rather wars, poverty, deficient education and weak structures in the regions are mostly responsible. The initial intention of researchers to unselfishly make the products available to small farmers was not fully realized. Sometimes patents were negotiated for parts of plants and their products. Little is known about the long-term consequences for the environment and the human body. The rice can be cross bred with related wild forms and rice on neighboring fields. Therefore its genes will probably spread to the surrounding fields and nature. If unexpected and negative consequences then appear for the environment or human health, bringing back the genetic plants will be impossible.

Ultimately the genetic engineering industry worldwide profits most from this product whose benefits for people are dubious. The unjust structures that produce hunger and block human access to a balanced nutrition are not touched.

(Luise Schottroff) We meet this argument in all crucial areas. Genetic engineering could alleviate or heal Parkinson disease. I still hear: Saddam Hussein‘s overthrow will trigger a wave of western democratization in Arab countries. Everything sounds so hopeful and convincing.

Jesus saw through Satan. He should join in the logic of economic persons who know money rules the world. The more I have, the better it will be for me, my future and my family. Jesus’ answer shows he understood this. “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus quotes the scripture and the story of manna in the wilderness. “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Substantively this involved the manna experience of the people of Israel during their wandering in the wilderness. The people, as the Bible relates, starved on their wandering in the wilderness for years and therefore quarreled with God (Ex 16,2.3). They longed for the fleshpots of Egypt and disloyalty to God. God did not let the people starve to death. Manna rained as bread from heaven. However this bread of God can only be appropriated in an economy of grace, God’s economy. It satiates everyone according to their need. If one hoards provisions, they will rot immediately. This story has been read for centuries and millennia as a lesson of an economy of justice. Egypt’s fleshpots are purchased with slavery and unfaithfulness toward God. In contrast, the bread of god is enough for everyone according to their need but one cannot become rich. The economy of “bread alone,” the economy of hoarding and riches for a few costs the soul and freedom, the scriptural tradition and Jesus say. Other Jesus stories tell how Jesus saw through the economy of structural egoism. Money becomes the power that pretends to be infinite. Having more and more promises having more and more life, enjoyment of life and future. Structural egoism is part of my life and our life. We learn daily in Satan’s school to snuggle before the violence of economic interests. However Jesus’ discipleship demands seeing through the economy of “bread alone” or structural egoism and not submitting.

In the reality of our society, clarity and tenacity are necessary. One example is the protest against the growing of genetic seed by the US corporation Monsanto([search]) in north Hesse. Monsanto is a world conglomerate intent on controlling seeds in many areas through genetic engineering. Through the combined resistance of Christians and community groups engaged in conservation, it had to accept a defeat. In January 2007, Monsanto cancelled its plans to grow genetically modified seed on its experimental field in North Hesse after 600 people protested. Still the battle has not ended. Monsanto has now announced it will release genetic seed in six German states.


(Luise Schottroff) Among “teenagers,” going shopping is the theme today. Shopping is the signal word for fun with one another. Shopping usually guarantees superfluous things. The improved form is called power shopping. My young friend Marie wanted to go shopping with me. We took a walk through downtown. She looked at all the cute things for little girls. However she didn’t buy anything. At night I thought she had to be given money to shop. I gave her money. The next day we went shopping. She saw the red pearls and slippers and bought nothing. The insinuations of our commodity world are subtle. They try to teach us to see shopping as sharing in true life. The economy of “bread alone,” structural egoism, is cunningly encouraged in our everyday life.

(Claudia Janssen) I am glad there are persons like Marie who see they don’t need everything and resist the suggestions of advertising. From my own experience I know how hard this is. But when I look around in my environment, I see she didn’t act very typically. With many children and youth, I see a very different conduct. Shopping is announced in a total way. I cannot only condemn this. Consumption is important for belonging. This is not only true for youths who must wear the “right” jeans and the “right” running shoes and need a play station or the latest computer. To participate in social life, money is necessary for adults to buy the proper clothing, go to the movies or theater and afterwards enjoy a beer or a meal at a restaurant. Whoever lives in the country hardly manages without a car – or is entirely isolated. That costs money. Without DSL and the latest computer equipment, I can hardly communicate and exchange with others. I have to constantly keep up with technology and its developments. Among acquaintances that have long been unemployed, I witness how they withdraw more and more, simply cannot afford many things and feel excluded.

I often ask myself how we can break out of this system. How can we realize the “economy of enough”? Many counter-strategies focus on the private realm. I return home from the church day inspired and with good insights, cook vegetarian meals, ride a bicycle instead of a car and spend my next vacation at the North Sea instead of the Canary Islands. How noble of me! I don’t want to be misunderstood. These are all important steps. I try to live as ecologically as possible and organize my lifestyle sustainably.

Still thinking politically in larger dimensions is also important to me. What is special in the narrative of Jesus and Satan in the wilderness is that Jesus’ decisions are made in the context of imperial Roman policy. The greatest challenge for me that makes me despair sometimes is the connection of the private and the political. Is my individual conduct sensible enough? How can I use my energy effectively? To speak figuratively, I save the world in my household. At the same time, industry blasts nearly unlimited emissions in the air, builds new coal power plants and new gas-guzzling cars – all in the service of the German economy. While we sit hear and read the Bible, the further liberalization of world trade is resolved in Heiligendamm.


(Luise Schottroff) This question really involves the third temptation. Let us now leap to the end of the story that dramatizes the political connection. The devil shows Jesus world domination with its power and riches. He lets all the masks fall and demands from Jesus the worship of Satan and betrayal of God. A young Jewish man from Nazareth who knew the story of Israel’s exodus saw through and opposed the violence of the economy that only rewards profit and knows no responsibility. That was enough and that is also enough today. Marie took the first step out of her own strength and spontaneous feeling. Then the second step comes.

(Claudia Janssen) I understand this last answer to the devil as a summons to work together with Jesus for a just world. “Another world is possible” – that was the perspective at that time and resounds today. This can only be lived in common by us and not only individually. We need the community and the church. The priorities for the future of the church are being set. As a church, we have an important function in society. What do we say about the current political developments and social challenges? In the impulse paper “Church of Freedom,” the EKD (Evangelical church in Germany) develops perspectives for the evangelical church in the 21st century. I read this 100-page paper and was disappointed in my search for visions.

The EKD seems focused on its own survival in view of increasingly reduced finances. Many measures are certainly sensible and right. Still I miss the perspective of a comprehensive justice oriented in the poor and needy of society and the world. The gospels show us again and again how Jesus makes his decisions. He sees the situation of the poor, sick and children in his environment. From there, he gains orientation for his salutary action, for the struggle for life.

The EKD paper is continuously formulated in an ecumenical language and a language of business management. Quality assurance is emphasized. Obviously this need not lead to the church adapting to the market economy. However the danger of only thinking and acting in economic categories is great when clear political and social visions are no longer proclaimed. The prophetic office of the church seems to be vacant. The envisioned church of the future that becomes alive again through this Bible text is a church oriented in the gospel of the poor.


(Luise Schottroff) Satan does not give up. He brings Jesus “to the highest place of the temple in Jerusalem.” At that time that was the Herodian temple where the Wailing Wall stands today. Other parts have surfaced through excavations. In the first century, the Jewish historian Josephus wrote about this highest place of the Herodian temple. “The whole work was one of the most remarkable that the sun ever shone on. A very tall hall was built over the valley that was so deep one became dizzy in looking down…”

Satan said: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, `He will give his angels charge of you,' and `On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”

Why should Jesus play the hero and provoke God? This temptation or challenge of Satan seems hard to understand. Why should Jesus leap to certain death? We could start from the life reality of people at that time. Are there situations that seduce to play the hero and face mortal danger? I see this in the story of the flight of the disciples. At the end of his lifetime, Jesus was arrested and handed over by the Jewish authorities to the Roman prefect Pilate. Jesus had brought people together in building new life – in the middle of the fragmented world. When he was arrested, all his followers ran away. We make it too easy when we say: they were cowardly. They would have been executed like Jesus. The Roman Empire immediately captured and killed everyone who showed sympathy to political suspects. Jesus’ followers had the task of continuing Jesus’ life if he were killed. We owe the message of Christ’s resurrection to their courage. Their courage not to risk death in this situation was the hour of birth of the Christian faith. Jesus also did not desire death in the confrontation with Jewish authorities and the Roman central command.

(Claudia Janssen) “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down!” Satan appeals here to scripture and repeats words from Psalm 91: “No evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. God’s angels are charged with guarding you on all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up so your foot does not strike a stone.” (Ps 91,10-12) How could Satan know the Bible so well? What voice speaks here to Jesus? What does it say? Be consistent, leap! Be not cowardly. If you are really God’s child, accept your martyrdom! If Luise’s interpretation is right, then Satan’s words come from the group that worked together with Jesus, the community of people who proclaimed the gospel and fell into danger. Perhaps Satan embodied a voice in Peter’s interior when he sat in the court of the high-priest and was recognized by a woman slave: “You also were with Jesus the Galilean” (Mt 26,69). If you really belong to Jesus, confess him. So spoke the voice in his interior. “I don’t know what you mean,” Peter replied. I won’t leap. No one would benefit if I am arrested and executed. At the end, Peter cried bitterly. The price for his survival was high; he denied Jesus.

Jesus’ answer to Satan affirmed all who decide for life and not for martyrdom – when they are able to decide. The limit of this possible decision is clear in Jesus’ last reply to Satan, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Who is Jesus really?

This temptation tells of a Jesus who as God’s child knew his goals. In this situation, he reflects what it means to consecrate life to God alone. He labors for the dignity of being God’s child. His way of life shows how carefully he could analyze. He saw the last in society, the poor, who suffer in poverty and sickness. Then he knew where he had to go on the path of justice.

Who is Jesus really? In that narrative about Satan, Satan calls him again and again Son of God. In the Greek text, the word hyios can be translated son or child. The later Christian idea of “Son of God” separated Jesus from people. Son of God was made a “sovereignty title.” Here Christ’s sovereignty and there the people who honor and acknowledge him as ruler and dedicate their lives to him. However this sovereignty christology blocks Jesus the brother who did not want to be a hero and whom I can learn to imitate. The Bible has been assailed for exaggerating the sovereignty christology for Jesus through words like Son of God. This criticism oversimplifies. Brother Jesus is God’s child as we are all God’s children and yet the brother in whom God is present for us. He is an everyday Jesus as this story demonstrates, a sober man, the God appearing on earth very near to us. Therefore we call him Christ the Messiah because God approaches us in him and he embodies God and has a common physical body.

(Luise Schottroff) This everyday Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, God’s child. who sits on God’s right hand in heaven (Col 3,1) – as the first Christians said and sang and as I also say. He claimed to be the way, the truth and the life. I know he was right. He showed a way to life that is (supposedly) completely unreal but is the only way.

Sometimes I see his face before me. He looks strained and emaciated. The prison experience is manifest in his face. He appears as only my brother Christ could appear: not faint-hearted or with little faith. His face is friendly and without any reserve. He sees me as my brother, this everyday Jesus. Go, I trust you. You have always moaned how terrible everything is. People had nothing to hope. Having children is senseless. At that time when you had cancer, you thought your life had come to an end.

My brother Christ takes my hand and walks beside me. His way of life is completely unreal but is the only way to life for me and people like me and reaches its goal because Jesus the Christ sits at the right hand of God. His way is called love and resistance. His way is a way of the powerless. His way is called hope in God, living as though the day of God were tomorrow.

My brother Christ is small because he is like me. He is infinitely great because he is with God. My brother Christ is so small that no human fate could be too shabby and miserable to share.

My brother Christ is greater than the whole world. God set him on the throne. His way is completely unreal and includes such strange things as “turning the other cheek.” He claims this is the way to life, life that cannot be corrupted and destroyed any more. How often Jesus’ face has been shattered in wars and in prisons like Guantanamo!

He looks at me full of friendliness. He is very near and very far. He sits at the right hand of God. He is greater than the whole world. He has truth and life on his side. When a fragment of his truth and his life are brought in our life, then the world has a future and I have a future. The more persons of Christ, persons of hope, live in the country, the nearer is the victory over death. Sometimes it was enough that two or three gathered in his name. My brother Christ is a sensitive vulnerable person who sits at God’s right hand. When we look at him, the brother Christ, we feel our strength as fragile and sensitive persons.

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An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war.
-- Mark Twain
Source: "Glances at History" (suppressed)

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