Bread was so important in the ancient world that the word often simply meant “food.” Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt from Canaan because there was “no bread in all the land” and famine resulted (Genesis 47). Their descendants escaped Egypt to the desert, taking bread with them. When that was gone they were in danger, and God sent manna.
Isaiah said bread-sharing is what God desires from faithful people. “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house?” (Isaiah 58). Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” If you had no bread, you starved.
Literary clues and archaeological evidence give a glimpse of how people made bread. Israelites could bring bread offerings “baked in the oven” or “prepared on a pan or on a griddle” (Leviticus 7:9). The latter involved a convex dome of earthenware or metal, with fire underneath. Cooks placed flattened pieces of dough on the hot dome to bake.
Ingredients often were just flour, water, yeast, salt. Bread sometimes included legumes and various grains, as in this recipe from Ezekiel: “Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them into one vessel, and make bread for yourself” (Ezekiel 4:9). Bread usually was sourdough, containing wild yeast that formed when dough was exposed to random yeast in the air.
Why did Jesus refuse to turn stones to bread in the wilderness (Matthew 4), when he later multiplied loaves to feed thousands? Perhaps because the devil included bread-making in a series of manipulative taunts: If you are the Son of God, make bread! If you are the Son of God, throw yourself from the temple! These kingdoms are yours if you worship me!
God does not deal with Jesus or with us on a do-this-and-I’ll-give-you-that basis. Like life itself, bread is a gift from God. Perhaps the devil was trying to get Jesus to use bread-making to manipulate crowds. Our Lord later thought crowds in Galilee would try to make him king by force because he fed them (John 6).
God wants to be more than our bread-making machine. The Creator wants relationship, and the Lord’s Prayer reflects such intimacy. We hallow God’s name and pray for God’s reign to come on earth. We seek forgiveness and promise to forgive. We ask to be spared of temptation. In the middle of these relationship-building prayers, we ask for our daily bread.
Jesus offers himself as the bread of life, indicating that relationship with him and with God is as essential as physical bread to a hungry person. Jesus is the “bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Does that make you want to be in relationship with someone who so satisfies our deepest hunger?
© 2019 J. Nelson Kraybill ****************************************************************
Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a Journey of Hope tour to Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019:
In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus Fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth.
We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation, including justice issues of Israel and Palestine, as we travel and worship together.
A second Journey of Hope tour on June 10-20, 2020 can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/
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What a timely post during this Lenten season. Thank you, Nelson.