I love good bread. So, when the CT Daily Briefing arrived at my inbox with an article titled, “Ministry of Bread,” I was naturally curious.
It turned out to be a meaningful read about how bread is ingrained in Ukrainian life and culture and how, “as the war continues, pastors and churches across Ukraine are working to bring people both the bread they need to feed their bodies and the bread they need for their souls.”
This calls to mind the rich symbolism of bread in Scripture:
- Joseph storing grain in Egypt
- God’s miraculous supply of manna in the wilderness
- Jesus being born in the house of bread [Bethlehem]
- Satan tempting Jesus to turn stones into bread
- “Give us this day our daily bread” in the model prayer
- Jesus being “the bread of life”
- and in the breaking of bread by the early church.
All of these listed above highlight provision and sustenance.
Jesus Is the Bread of Life
It makes sense, then, that of all the miracles of Jesus, the one involving bread is the only one recorded in all four Gospels (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:12-17, John 6:1-14). In John’s account, the application is two-fold: (1) Jesus, through His Word, is the bread of life, and (2) His followers are to gladly share this bread with a hungry world.
We do so best by becoming what Henri Nouwen calls “the Beloved.” He asserts that this is the greatest spiritual journey one can make, describing it as the fleshing out the truth of our beloved-ness in everything we think, do, or say.
To move in that direction, Nouwen offers a simple model based on the story of the feeding of the 5,000. He outlines this in his book, Life of the Beloved, using four words that summarize our life as Christians as we become bread for the world.
First, We Must Be Taken by Jesus
First, like the bread, we must be taken by Jesus. This is underscored by the statement, “Jesus took the bread.” Being taken involves surrender, for the bread was taken only to the degree that it was willingly surrendered by the young boy.
Though not identified, his reaction is remarkable. Being the only one in that large crowd who thought to bring lunch, the idea of giving it up may have seemed daunting. But there’s no hint of resistance, simply a glad surrender.
Second, We Must Be Blessed
Second, becoming bread involves blessing. “Blessed are” is how Jesus began the beatitudes, and the very first Psalm paints a picture of the blessed life. So just as Jesus “held the bread up to heaven and blessed it,” we are to be blessed, and to bless others. “To give someone the blessing,” says Dr. Nouwen, “is the most significant affirmation we can offer.”
Third, We Must Be Broken
Third, we must be broken. Nouwen says “The first step toward healing and wholeness is to recognize our brokenness.” But Nouwen cautions that our brokenness must be placed under the cross – not under the curse: “The great spiritual call of the Beloved Children of God is to pull their brokenness away from the shadow of the curse and put it under the light of the blessing” (P. 97).
Fourth, We Must Be Given Away
Fourth, we must be given. Like the bread in this story—blessed and distributed; like Mary’s alabaster box of ointment—broken and spilled out. Like Christians around the world who give of themselves in evangelism and missions, expecting nothing in return, we must give ourselves away in humble sacrificial service. In so doing we find our greatest fulfillment in life. Jesus said, “If anyone would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).Like Christians around the world who give of themselves in evangelism and missions, expecting nothing in return, we must give ourselves away in humble sacrificial service. – Whaid Rose Click To Tweet
Gandhi’s observation is apropos: “There are people in the world so hungry, Jesus cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” So it is, that in Europe’s breadbasket, Ukrainian Christians labor in unimaginable circumstances to deliver fresh loaves to desperately hungry people.
But they’re mindful of the deeper hunger that physical bread cannot satisfy. “Man shall not live by bread alone,” Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, “but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Lost Humanity Needs Good Bread
Jesus expands on this in John 6:51, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
There’s lots of bad bread out there—half-baked social and political dough—which does nothing for the soul. Lost humanity needs good bread, the bread which came down from heaven. And what a privilege it is for Christians to become the embodiment of Christ in our broken world, daily embracing the mystery of being taken, blessed, broken, and given away.