In a moment of madness, one time I foolishly tried the ‘Atkins’ diet – that’s the one where you eat only proteins and fats, and no carbohydrates – no bread, no pasta, and definitely no biscuits. In the first week everything went well. In the second week there was a sharp increase of bad temper: I was fed up with eating only meat and cheese! By the third week I developed kidney stones from the high protein and lack of carbohydrates in the diet. I learned the painful way that our bodies actually DO need carbohydrates! This is the way God designed us! And Jesus knew this, for in John's gospel, chapter 6, he gives us this wonderful image of Himself as the bread of life.
Bread – it’s an important staple food for people all over the world. Bread gives us nutrients for the growth and well-being of our bodies. It’s healthy for us! In the west we consume so many things that are unhealthy for us. (Personally, I consume way too much chocolate!) But not only do we ‘feed’ ourself through our mouth, we also ‘feed’ ourself through our eyes and our ears. Depending on what we choose to look at and listen to, these things can be healthy for us, or they can be very unhealthy.
We can become addicted to non-nutritious things that don’t really satisfy. We compulsively consume things which temporarily make us feel better, but then after a while, the buzz wears off and we need more. We live in a consumer society. We’re encouraged to buy more and more, whether we need it or not - to keep the economy going - or are we trying to fill an emptiness inside? In our heart of hearts, we know what is good for us and what is bad, because as we can read in Jeremiah ch. 31 v. 33, God has put his law in our minds and written it on our hearts.
The bread of life: that’s the kind of everyday familiarity Jesus wants with us. By taking Jesus into our life, the Spirit can use us as instruments of God in the world, feeding and nurturing other people with the good news of God’s eternal love. The metaphor of bread shows just how fundamental our need is for Jesus in our life and in our soul. Jesus is the bread of life, and eating this bread means putting Jesus into the centre of our being – letting Jesus become our closest friend, regardless of who we have been in the past, or how unqualified we might feel.
Through living the life of faith, Jesus becomes our staple food - not a side dish, or something left out too long which goes cold or gets mouldy. That emptiness we feel inside is real, and we all have it, and at times it can feel very intense indeed. That is what St. John of the Cross calls the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’. But there is only one person that fills that darkness – he is the Light of the World. And there is one person that feeds us truly satisfying nourishment: he is the bread of life that came down from heaven.
Jesus teaches that we need to consume him, everyday. We need to keep feeding ourselves with Jesus to see growth in our own lives and in the life of the Church - daily prayer; reading the bible; breaking bread together, and having faith in the power of God to transform our lives. And by doing this we grow into Jesus, and he grows in us, and our lives are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit: as we share in the joy and the challenge of being the body of Christ: bread for a hungry world, and drink for those who thirst for justice, fullness of life, and even eternal life.
Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and then gave it out. And we who have received are now the distributors of the bread of life.
All this sounds like an impossible burden, and it would be if we had to bear the weight of it in our own strength. He knows we are weak. But he shares all our burdens when we allow him to. And the bread of life gives us the nourishment we will need for the entire, eternal, journey.
Some foods are available only in season. Some foods are made only at certain times of the year. Not so with bread. And not so with Jesus. He has already done the breaking, the giving and the blessing. We just need to give thanks, take and eat, and as much as we are children of God, we must never forget… to share.