Cathy-Hird-breadBy Cathy Hird

In each of the four bible stories of Jesus, we read of a time when he fed a huge crowd. When the writer John thought about the meaning of the miracle, he argued that this sharing of bread pushed people to look for what gives life to the spirit as well as what feeds the body.

As John tells it, this happened on the eve of the passover. That festival made many restless as they squirmed under the thumb of Rome and remembered the exodus from Egypt. This miracle echoes Moses' story as Jesus led the people out into the wilderness and up onto a moutain. Then, he fed them bread.

For those who looked for a liberator, the parallels were perfect. "Make him king right now, and we'll take back our land," they declared.

Jesus slipped away. He cared that they were hungry. He cared about the poor in Galilee, suffering because of the rich landlords and the invaders. But making him king was the way to bring done the brutal fist of Rome on the land. He disappeared with a few trusted followers.

The crowd followed and confronted him. "Keep feeding us," they said. When Jesus spoke of bread that nourishes the spirit, the crowd objected. "Moses gave his people bread from heaven."

The thing was, they were only looking at what was right in front of them. They focussed on only one side of the problem, the physical side. Physical hunger was real, but so was the need to be connected beyond. "Listen and absorb what I teach," Jesus said. "That is the bread that gives life." He argued that taking in his words would help them see beyond the immediate moment to what is eternal.

The people scoffed. "This is a man we know, the son of Joseph. Who is he to give us life?" They refused to hear him. They wanted a quick solution to Roman oppression. They watched for one they could make king. They watched for one with a sword who would liberate them.

Jesus said, "Listen to me for I speak for the Eternal. I speak the words that will connect you with what is beyond." He said this in the synagogue, the place where his people gathered to learn, to seek community, to seek wholeness, to sense what is eternal. We are reminded that at this point Jesus was not establishing a new religion but engaging with family to figure out how to live a deep and holy life in a difficult time.

Jesus spoke of the bread of life, not the bread of survival but the bread that nourishes the spirit. He spoke of the wine that quenches thirst, not the wine that makes one drunk, not the wine that feeds false dreams, but the drink that answers longing.

Everyday life puts demands on us. We need to pay the bills. We need to feed the family. Sometimes this is hard. The people Jesus lived among were hungry too much of the time, in debt and struggling to get by. He got angry at those in power who could have changed that. He healed those who suffered, and fed those who hungered. But still he asked them to look beyond. "What are you waiting for? What do you seek?"

When we wake in the night, what do we long for? When we wake in the morning, what do we hope for? When we stop and take stock in the middle of the day, what do we lean on, and what do we work toward?

A loaf of bread is just bread. It makes a good breakfast. But it is also made from wheat that was nurtured by sun and rain, from grains that were gathered and kneaded into something fragrant and wholesome. Eating bread connects us with the gardens of creation and the people of our community. As we are connected to these parts of creation, we are connected to the Creator. Bread nourishes our spiritual life as we grow in awareness of these connections.

When Jesus offered bread to the people, he also called them to look for more--more truth, more life, more hope. His story invites us to share both bread and life.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walters Falls.


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