Some Things Must Be Broken

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Prepare it with oil on a griddle; bring it well mixed and present the grain offering broken in pieces as an aroma pleasing to the LORD. (Lev 6:21 NIV)

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Ps 51:17 NIV)

And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. (Matt 14:19 NIV)

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (Matt 26:26 NIV)

Before an egg can fulfill its function, it has to be broken. Whether we think of that function as producing a chick or providing a breakfast, the shell has to be broken before the function is complete. An unbroken egg has not yet become what it is meant to be. This simple illustration reminds us that some things cannot reach their potential without being broken. In the stories of Jesus feeding the five thousand and the four thousand we are told each time that Jesus “gave thanks and broke the loaves” (Matt. 14:19) and then gave them to the disciples to provide to the people. No matter how much Jesus could make of the few loaves of bread, it was no good to the people until he had broken it. In the process of breaking it, Jesus made more of it than it had been before. This is more than the idea of the egg, because the bread broken in Jesus’ hands actually became more than its own potential. The bread broken in Jesus’ hands became more than it had been, or could be, before it was broken.

In the Law of Moses it was commanded that before a high priest took up his office he was to be anointed, and that on the day of his anointing a special grain offering was to be presented (Leviticus 6:19-23) for him. It was to be a simple cake made with good flour and oil, and presented in broken pieces on the altar, to be completely consumed by fire. Because of other symbolic uses of both bread and oil in the Law, the emphasis here for the high priest is on the idea that, once consecrated to the service, his own will was to be broken before God’s will, and his life consumed in the service of God. By this surrender to God he would become more than a man, exceeding his own potential, being the anointed of God.

Shortly before his death Jesus was anointed by Mary of Bethany. Jesus described her loving act as “a beautiful thing” that she had done for him (Mark 14:6, NIV). What she did is take an alabaster jar full of expensive ointment and broke the jar so that she could pour all of its contents on Jesus (Mark 14:3 ). Even though the jar may have been expensive in its own right, what mattered was the scented oil within, and the comfort that could give to Jesus. The oil couldn’t flow from a sealed jar, and so she broke it open. By so doing, and giving it all at once to Jesus, she exceeded the inherent potential value of the ointment itself (see John 12:1-8). By breaking the jar and presenting its contents to Jesus, letting the oil flow freely, Mary achieved something greater even than the potential good she could have done by selling the oil and giving away the money to the needy. The broken jar and poured out oil obtained a value beyond their intrinsic worth, because the jar was broken for Jesus and the oil poured out for him in love.

The human mind in its carnal or worldly outlook views Mary breaking and pouring, and says, “what a waste, the potential is lost.” The spiritual mind though, which Jesus and Mary shared here, views the breaking and pouring and says, “this is beautiful, this is important, this will not be forgotten.” The flesh struggles against being broken or even admitting to its limitations, but the spirit within can only be set free to obtain its potential when in fact the flesh is broken. And sharing in the anointing of God as a priest requires that a broken offering be laid on the altar.

Paul used the illustration of a clay jar to describe our bodies (2 Corinthians 4:7), pointing out that the contents exceed the value of the container, the contents being the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). He proceeds to tell of the ways that he himself has accepted being broken for the sake of Christ (vv8-12), “afflicted but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair.” As the oil flowed from Mary’s broken jar, so the Spirit flowed from Paul’s broken life (2 Corinthians 4:13-18), just as Jesus had promised for those who believe in him (John 7:37-39). Being broken and presented on the altar did not crush Paul’s spirit, but instead he said, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (v16) And what flowed from Paul was not of Paul, but of God, and greater than Paul’s own potential. This is the idea of yielding to God, of taking Jesus’ yoke (Matthew 11:28-30), of being broken to his will and for his purposes. This is the sacrifice God desires, as David learned. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17 NIV) But it is hard to accept that victory lies in an admission of defeat, that success can only be found when failure is admitted, that life only comes to those who accept death.

God’s grace says to us, “admit your failures, acknowledge your deficiencies, accept my life in place of your own.” Knowing our limitations, knowing that we don’t have enough loaves to go around unless they’re broken, knowing that the oil is trapped and useless as long as the container is unbroken, is the beginning of exceeding our own potential. When does the Spirit help us? “In our weakness,” Paul says (Romans 8:26). And again, when Paul was discouraged by his own weakness (whatever it was), God’s answer to him was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). We must choose to depend on God, and not ourselves, to accept being broken for his cause, that he might work in us and through us and that we might, in being broken, not only achieve our potential, but by his grace, exceed it.

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