I have been baking bread for as long as I can remember.
It was a regular occurrence at the home I grew up in: the aroma of fresh baked bread.
It was, I’m told, an even more regular happening in the home my mother grew up in back in the time when bread could not be bought as easily as it can be today.
My grandmother, whom I never knew, baked bread. My mother baked bread. And so do I.
fun tending the sponge of a marvelous rye bread on the back of my stove — While bread can be exotic, it’s also pretty basic. All you finally need is flour, a little salt, yeast, water, and maybe a little sugar or other sweetener. Patience and a decent oven help, too. Still, all in all, bread is pretty ordinary. Every culture enjoys some form of it. In fact, I understand that for more than 6,000 years, people the world over have been baking bread.
And so it is that Jesus offers us today the image of bread as a way to better understand him. Indeed, his first listeners wondered, too, at the ordinariness of the man whose message they had come to hear. They wondered at who he thought he was — this Jesus whose parents they knew so well. They wondered how one so much like them in so many ways could begin to think of tying himself to heaven when he says, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” Indeed, no doubt they wonder, too, how it is he can make such extraordinary claims about something so ordinary: claiming to be the bread which will satisfy hunger and quench thirst for all of time.
It is how God always seems to work, of course. Oh, there are plenty of extraordinary things which happen in the presence of Jesus, but in the end, God uses fairly ordinary means to reach us. We experience this over and over again in many of Jesus’ teachings. Consider, for instance, his parables where he speaks of things like seeds and weeds and crops and vineyards and lost coins and travelers and families: all so very familiar to the people who first listened to what he had to say. And today, of course, he brings to mind the nearly universal image and experience of bread. Indeed, God employs ordinary means to help us understand, embrace and rejoice in God’s love for and intent for us all: including Jesus himself, whose childhood, no doubt mirrored those of his neighbors. For of course, it is the ordinary we understand best. And by God’s wondrous gift, it is the ordinary which the Holy somehow permeates and makes new — in always extraordinary ways..
Whenever I bake bread I do so remembering so many. A grandmother I never knew and the large family she made sure were fed. An aunt whose house always smelled of fresh baked bread whenever we dropped in. My mother who taught us to knead and shape the loaves and who looked the other way when my sisters and I would playfully toss the dough to one another before placing it in the bowl to rise. All these women: simply ordinary people finding life in a tradition which helped sustain life at their tables. And of course, we are all so very privileged to think of Jesus, too, who compared himself to ordinary bread. And in doing so gave his listeners something to chew on. So that now all of our bread can speak to us of the promise of so much more than something to sustain us today.
- How does the image of Jesus as the Bread of Life speak to you? What stories of ‘bread’ make Jesus’ words today all the more meaningful to you?
- Why do you think some of his first listeners were not able to understand or embrace his teaching? Have your questions ever mirrored theirs? Why or why not?
- What other examples can you think of where God used ordinary means to reach God’s beloved people? Where have you experienced the gifts of God in the ‘ordinary’ in your life?