I wonder how many of you are fans of cooking programmes? Well lots of us watch these things nowadays, in fact celebrity chefs have taken on a kind of cult status and we all have our favourites. My husband James is a fan of the Hairy Bikers and often rings me up when they’re on in the week and tells me to switch on the programme. Now I’m not sure whether he simply doesn’t want me to miss a good programme or if he’s hoping I might jot down the recipes and give them a go, but no matter, they are definitely his favourite. If you don’t know who they are or if you don’t have a telly then I’ll give you a quick rundown.
Well they’re Geordies of, let’s just say, generous proportions. They’re kind of rough and tough looking with long hair and ride around on big scary motorbikes meeting folks, finding lovely things to cook and eat and generally, it seems, enjoying themselves. They’re fans of all the good things in life: good olive oil, and butter and cream and cheese and especially excellent bread. Their most recent series of programmes was called the Bakeathon. They went from one country to another finding super recipes for bread and other baked goods, trying them out and eating a large proportion of them. James tells me their next project is called the Hairy Dieters. Honestly! Maybe they really did overdo it this time, or maybe he’s just having me on.
Every country has some kind of bread that is a big part of the diet. There’s Indian chapattis or Turkish pitta bread, there’s other flat breads of various sorts, French bread, corn bread, soda bread, potato bread, Italian ciabatta or foccacio bread and so on and so on. I’m sure you can name a few yourselves.
Well this is not a cookery lecture I know but in Jesus’s day they too had bread as a big part of their diet. Every household would make bread each morning, their daily bread, as our Lord’s Prayer says. Probably in the shape of little loaves that could be carried with you and eaten in place of a meal. The five loaves of last week’s story were more than likely part of one person’s picnic, five small rolls really and two little fish. A poor man’s lunch, or as the story goes in John’s Gospel a young boy’s lunch of barley loaves and fishes.
Jesus accuses the crowd that have followed him from one place to another of looking for sensations. They had been present at the giant picnic that we spoke about last week. They were witnesses to the miracle of everyone being fed. They saw for themselves the baskets of leftover food and they immediately connected it all with the story they knew from childhood of how Moses fed the children of Israel in the desert with manna and quails. But they weren’t satisfied, they pursued Jesus and demanded more, more signs, more proof, more everything.
Now isn’t that just like us? So many years have passed and yet we haven’t changed and we’ve learnt so very very little! God tested the people of Israel in the desert. He only gave them enough food for one day and told them not to gather more than they needed. The test was about trust. Would they trust him enough to only gather what they needed? If you read on in Exodus you will find that, as ever, only some of them were capable of taking just what they needed for that day. I can’t help having a bit of sympathy with the children of Israel though. They were in the desert, they had no home and they had been starving. How hard it must have been for those with children to feed not to stockpile for the next day, just in case! God wasn’t too hard on them. The food simply went bad overnight and they had to gather fresh manna in the morning.
Humanity is characterised by a spirit that is always wanting more. As we grow and mature we realise, most of us, that (as my father used to say whenever he was invited to a second helping)… “enough is as good as a feast.” However there are still plenty of examples of people and societies who have not been able to say ‘no thanks’ to the possibility of more even when we know in our hearts that it might not be good for us and that enough truly is as good as a feast. It’s human greed that has got us into the difficulties that face our global society today. Greed for power, greed for energy, greed for money, greed for status. It’s basic human greed that has got us into the situation where the majority of people in the developed world are classed as overweight and millions in other parts of the world are malnourished. We put more food in our bins in a day in the developed world than many people have to eat in a month. The most scandalous example I have of greed and waste was at a football match in Pittsburgh. During the interval a huge cannon was wheeled onto the pitch and loaded with hotdogs which were then fired at the crowd to the great amusement of all there. How many hungry people could have been fed with the food that was wasted that day?
The people who saw Jesus’s miracle wanted more. They wanted more proof that he might indeed be the Messiah that they had waited for. Jesus was annoyed with them and reminded them first of all who it was who fed the Israelites in the desert. It was God, not Moses. Look to God, he was saying. God will satisfy your needs. The Jews had heard his words and seen his actions and yet they still wanted more proof. They wanted him, as the promised Messiah to produce manna and prove that he was the one they had waited for. How many signs, how many more words, would they have needed to be convinced?
Okay let’s pause there and have a look at bread. What are the properties of bread that makes it such an important and iconic staple food? Let’s have a look at the ingredients and the processes involved in making a really good loaf of bread. I’m not going to allow you to imagine that you have a bread-maker because that’s cheating and won’t help us to an understanding of what Jesus was trying to tell us when he said these amazing and very famous words… “I am the Bread of Life.”
The first ingredient is flour. The fruit of the field. It comes from the earth and is fed by the sun and the rain. It is ground and processed by human endeavour and added to water and yeast and the fat of the land, a little sweetness to help the yeast grow and your loaf is almost made. It needs a little time and some hard work put into making it pliable and elastic and then with a little warmth and quiet it will grow and prove itself. Nearly ready now. The final thing, the baking. Some real heat is applied to the dough and then the bread, fragrant and delicious is ready to eat! You cannot beat newly-made home-baked bread. They even tell you to have some bread on the go when you’re trying to sell your house because it makes the place feel like a home!
We too have come from the earth; we have been nurtured by this earth that we call home. Human endeavour has helped us to maturity. The sweetness of love will help us along. Some time and some hard work will hone our skills and make us fit for the hard times that we all have to face. The difficulties of life, for some of us some real heat. It is a combination of all of these things that will make the final result worth all the effort. We too can become fragrant and beautiful and good and nourishing to the people that live around us. Jesus though, has taken things to the next level. He is the bread of life, our example, our mentor but he is also our saviour, the bread which has been broken for each one of us. And most importantly more than 2,000 years on Jesus is still here, very much a part of all that we do in His name! What more proof do we need?