Whole Wheat, Greenbacks, and Real Life
by Pete Haynes

"Traffic isn't all that bad," Kevin thought, as he drove home Tuesday evening. Not bad, compared with how the freeway usually was during rush hour. He played with the radio, trying to get his mind off work. That was easier than getting his mind off the checkbook.

Things do get complicated. Between buying a house, and paying for a car, and all the other bills that come with living the good life, it gets so complex. This "good life" always seems just one more raise around the corner, another dollar in the bank.

Kevin thought about Ed McMahan and all those sweepstakes. He never entered one. Who wins them, anyway? But, boy, could they use money like that right now. He'd always been taught that gambling was wrong, but every time he passed by one of those "Lottery" billboards, he had to wonder what it would be like to win all that money. Not only could they pay their bills, but they could get some of those things they'd always wanted.

With all that money, he could stop watching every penny, and putting Vicki and the kids through the nightmare of "balance the budget" day. Over the years they'd learned to stay away from Dad on that day. He hated being like that! Extra money could really make life a whole lot easier.

Of course, if he did win it big, the Lord would get a hunk of it. He could finally afford to tithe. Hey, if he won big enough, he could give the church the equivalent of a year's budget and turn around the giving cycle, so that this year's spending would be last year's giving. Wouldn't that be something?! Some real good could happen if somehow he ever did buy into the Lottery, and just happened to win.

Such was the state of Kevin's mind as he drove home on the freeway. He almost didn't see the cars ahead of him slow down. Things came to a standstill. "O brother," he thought, "I guess it'll be a late evening." Then he saw the reason for the tie-up. You couldn't miss it.

The sky was literally green. It was really strange: sunlight filtering through something like a kaleidoscope of green. He couldn't figure out what it was. Then something landed on his windshield. He looked at it closely, and realized it was a $100 bill. He shook his head and looked again. Sure enough, that's what it was.

Another landed, and then another. He let out something between a war-hoot and the cry of an insane man, and jumped out of the car. He started grabbing for as many bills as he could. It was raining money. Folks around him were out of their cars doing the same thing, on both sides of the interstate. It was amazing!

Of course, he wasn't watching them. His eyes were on the skies. He didn't even bother to wonder from where it was all coming. A woman nearby yelled out, "It's like manna from heaven!" "A miracle!," cried someone else. Kevin said nothing. He just was stuffing his pockets full.

A police car raced by on the berm of the road, but he didn't even see it. He wiped his chin and the cuff of his shirt came away soaking wet, but he didn't notice. The stream of money from the sky, this "manna from heaven," slowly started to let up. Then it stopped.

It didn't take long for all the greenbacks to be picked up. Then everybody just got back in their cars, and waited for traffic to begin moving again. Kevin got behind the wheel, and immediately his mind started racing.

"I can pay for the car outright! I could set aside a chunk of it all for the kid's college. Maybe we could finally get that swimming pool we've been wanting. No, be practical, Kevin! Put most of it away in savings and use the interest. Well, maybe not all of it. Hey! Put a couple $100 in the offering this Sunday and see what happens."

Kevin's mind raced through the possibilities. Of course, he never did consider whether that money belonged to anybody. It was too much like a dream come true. Without thinking about it, he turned the radio on. A song ended, and the announcer began to speak.

"Well, folks, if you're coming home on the uptown expressway, you've got a twenty to thirty minute wait. Seems some practical joker had a field day this afternoon. For more on the story we turn to Diane Aaron on the scene. Diane?"

"Hello, Steve. I'm standing here at exit twenty-five talking with officer Malone of the state police. This is one colossal traffic jam. I've never seen anything like it. It all started when money rained from the sky. Tell us more, officer Malone."

"Well yes, Ms. Aaron. I arrived on the scene around 5:27pm. People were out of their cars running around like maniacs. Some folks were literally foaming at the mouth, as they were frantically trying to collect all these bogus $100 bills that were floating down from the sky."

"Did you say, "bogus," officer?"

"Yes, ma'am. Any fool looking at the things could see they're no good. As far as we can tell right now, somebody dumped a load of them from an airplane or something, right over the interstate. We've got detectives working on that right now. Whoever did this is in a lot of trouble. Luckily, there were no major accidents..."

Kevin started listening in earnest about halfway through the broadcast. "Bogus?," he wondered. He took a bill out of his pocket and looked at it ... sure enough. The signature above the title, "secretary of the treasury" was "Ross Perot". The picture was of Al Gore, complete with a white wig.

Kevin started laughing as hard as he could. He thought about how stupid he'd been. He was probably one of the ones the officer was talking about. "Foaming at the mouth." Had he really looked that ridiculous? Well, he was in good company. He looked at the folks in the cars around him. Some of them were laughing, too.

He turned off the radio and started to think. What was most important to him? Apparently, money and everything it could buy, was pretty high on the list. How did he feel about that? He always thought a Christian was supposed to be a bit different from everybody else.

Was he really any different, when it came right down to it? He foamed at the mouth and chased after the bread, just like everybody else. Pretty ridiculous. What was most important to him, anyway? Had he allowed the things in his life to run it? It gets so complicated! "I guess you figure you can control the things, the stuff money can buy. So easily and quickly, though, they come to control you."

What was most important to him, anyway? Certainly, his family should be near the top of the list. They were part of the reason he tried to keep up this standard of living. He wanted them to have the "good life." Was that enough? Was the good life getting in the way?

Yes, you needed your daily bread. Everybody does. Life, though, is more than bread, it's more than the things that you have. It's more than the control you have over something that really has more control over you.

As he sat in his car, waiting for traffic to start moving again, Kevin thought about all of this. He reached into his glove compartment and pulled out a cassette. A friend had once spoken of how he used the time he spent on the road each day to listen to the Bible on tape. So Kevin started doing the same.

Today's cassette just happened to begin at the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. He listened to it as he waited, hearing it as if for the first time. All those hungry people. What were they worried about, really? A boy had a lunch, and somehow, Jesus made that little bit of food enough for everybody. There was so much more to it all, though, than a few loaves and fishes.

"Yes, God provides everything we need," Kevin thought as he listened, "but that's not what life is really all about... Those people, they just saw the miracle, they saw loaves and fishes multiply before them. They saw only $100 bills floating down from heaven; something they could grab, and use to get by, and maybe get ahead in this old world. But they didn't see Jesus. Then he walked away."

Kevin kept on listening to the Bible come alive as he sat. Traffic was still at a standstill. The people in the story found Jesus, the guy who had given them bread, and they were hungry for more. Jesus, though, could see through them to what they really wanted. To him, the things they desired were bogus. Their deeper hunger would never be touched by this stuff. As if for the first time, Kevin heard Jesus talk about "real life," something far greater than the "good life."

"I am the bread of life," Jesus said, "he who comes to me shall not hunger, he who believes in me shall never thirst ... everyone who really sees me, and really believes in me, will have real life, everlasting life, eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day."

Kevin listened, and heard with a deeper ear. Since childhood he'd been trying to get control over his life. Yet, he never felt like he succeeded, even as his business flourished and his family prospered.

That was true of his life as a Christian, also. Jesus was just someone to help him get ahead. God provided his daily bread. He was thankful for it, and at mealtime they said thanks, and they went to church to say thanks. He was grateful for his daily bread, the stuff they needed to get by, and maybe even get ahead, every day. Here, though, was something more than mere bread, whether whole wheat, or greenback.

"I am the Bread of Life," Jesus said. Those words came alive as Kevin listened. Here he was, sitting in his car, on a crowded freeway, his pockets stuffed with bogus bread. Jesus spoke to him, in that still, small voice with which God often speaks.

"Kevin, I am the bread of life. Don't search elsewhere. You'll never be satisfied. Real life is not for sale. It is a gift. I give it to you. Kevin. I died especially for you. Just come to me. Believe in me. I give my life to you. I am the Bread of Life, and that will be so much more than you will ever need."

The cassette kept on running, but Kevin was listening beyond the words. Before he knew it, traffic was starting to move. A honk from behind prompted him to turn on the ignition. Soon things were back to normal. Well, not quite. Kevin was heading back home with so much more than his bogus bills.

As he drove, he prayed. "God, you are more than I ever wanted you to be. I desired bread, the stuff that helps me get by, maybe even get ahead. I guess that's all I really thought I wanted. You've given me that. But you are so much more than mere bread, Lord. Forgive me my foolishness. I really want you to be the One who determines my life. Give me tomorrow's bread, today, the bread of life that I can't control, which satisfies more than anything else. Thank you, Jesus, for dying upon that cross for me. A gift, I cannot repay. I believe. Help me to really live. Amen."

see this story in dramatic reading format

1996Peter L. Haynes

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