Today is the fourth Sunday in a row we’ve heard about bread in church. I am the bread of life, he says, whoever comes to me will never be hungry. I am the bread that came down from heaven. I am the living bread. Bread is what’s on most preachers’ minds this month, but for Jesus’ audience, bread was always on their minds. Quite simply, bread was the difference between life and death. Having bread to eat meant life. No bread meant death.
First century Palestinians ate pita bread with everything. Poorer Palestinians ate very little else. But even though it made up the bulk of their diet, bread wasn’t easily come by because of the labor involved creating it. Bread was made from wheat and barley grains, coarsely ground by hand between two stones and baked into rough loaves the same day. Even though it’s a straightforward process, it was tremendously hard work.
Because the work took so long, it seemed one could never get ahead, making famine was an ever-present fear. And yet, here is Jesus saying, “the one who eats this bread will live forever.” Jesus’ words have a power that I will never fully understand. But after four weeks of hearing about bread, I know that I must find meaning in these texts.
According to Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland, Americans throw away a quarter of the food they buy each year. For a family of four, a pretty conservative estimate is that we’re throwing away $2,200 a year in food. Bloom says that as Americans we simply buy too much. We buy too much because we can afford to do so and we buy too much because we don’t like seeing empty refrigerators. We ensure waste by filling our fridge week after week…which creates another problem. We know we should be eating fresh foods and cooking our own healthy meals, but so many of us don’t actually have a lifestyle that makes this possible. Yet, we just keep buying all this food.
This really hits home for me. Last week I was guilty of buying an entire of bag celery heart when my recipe only called for two…and then I failed to use the rest of them. A few days later I prepared a meal whose leftovers were never eaten, so they too were thrown away. Arugula grows slime. Sour cream grows mold. Fresh peaches shrivel. And while I’m being so careless with food, 41.2 million Americans live in food-insecure homes.
So what do we do?
Today after church I plan to talk with my family about creating a practical response to today’s gospel. I will pledge to be thoughtful about how I buy, store and serve food. I will ask my husband to be more open to leftovers and ask my children to participate in school lunch prep to ensure more food is eaten and less food is tossed into cafeteria trash bins. I will talk with the two meat eaters in our family about moving towards a more plant-based, sustainable diet. We will work together to find a feeding ministry we can support.
I also want us to seek out stories about the holiness of food from the bible and elsewhere. When Jesus takes bread, he gives thanks before sharing it. Because of weekday tempo of our family, many mornings and nights we rush to eat our meals. Jesus reminds us to pause, give thanks, and bless our food before we eat it. In this brief moment of gratitude, I’m hoping we might learn to notice and be thankful for what is in front of us, and acknowledge God’s presence with us at the table.
Listening, watching, noticing, giving thanks. When we take the time to do these things, my hope is that we will begin to see the whole world, right down to the slice of bread on our plate, in a transformed way. We will begin to realize that every day we are blessed by God’s presence, even at the kitchen table. Especially at the kitchen table.
[Image Credit: public domain via Pixabay]
How are you talking about the bread gospel readings in your family this month?