Bread is a very common food and is a staple for many cultures. It comes in a variety of types: whole wheat, banana, white, potato, brown, naan, pita, ciabatta, multigrain and gluten free to name only a few. Of all our foods, bread is perhaps the most common. Like so many other elements of our lives, bread hardly captures any attention. In fact, what is ordinary and common, can be very significant.
Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel contains a long discourse on the relationship between Jesus and the Father. The chapter begins with the account of the feeding of 5000 with loaves and fish. The impact of this event created a great stir and people began to flock to Jesus. They hoped for another sign, not understanding that this was more than a simple feeding with bread.
In the discourse, Jesus moves beyond the physical entity of bread to a significance beyond simple feeding of the body. Jesus expresses this deeper meaning with the statement: “I am the bread of life…. Whoever eats this bread will live forever and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” For John, this allusion to his giving of his life indicates that Jesus will ultimately pour out his life for all of us and will do this as a sign of God’s great love for the whole of creation.
For many this was too much. This was a person they all knew and whose family lived among them. How could someone so common and ordinary make such a claim? As the chapter continues, many who had started to follow him, now began to drift away from him. The sign that had attracted them, ceased to be something they could place their faith in, at least in the way in which they understood it.
Those who remained committed disciples would gradually come to grasp the deeper meaning of the sign that seemed so ordinary. For them, the faith and trust they placed in this Jesus, became more than following a teacher who conveyed knowledge to them or a leader who would help them in momentary struggles. It became a way of life and an awareness of God’s constant and unconditional love for them and all the peoples of the earth.
In letters he wrote for early Christian communities a later disciple, Paul captured this deeper, faith and trust as a way of living. One of these letters was directed to the Christian community at Ephesus. Paul saw in Jesus, a wonderous expression of God’s love for all and a commitment from God who like a parent would never cease loving us.
The way of life for a disciple as Paul expressed it was to imitate Jesus and allow the love showered upon us, to become our way of life with all (Ephesians 4:30 – 5:2). In this letter, Paul has managed to express what giving “life for the world” means in practical, everyday ways: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” This says Paul is the mark of the Spirit among us.