I collect grains. You may think that’s a bit odd, but it makes sense since I’m a farmgirl from Nebraska. Wheat, milo, and corn were essential to our economic security. My great-grandfather immigrated from one breadbasket of the world (Ukraine) to another in the plains of Nebraska.
Recently, while hunkering down at home during the early days of Covid-19, I took inventory of my grains. When hearing of the warnings in early months of 2020 that the pandemic may likely cause a major upheaval in the nation’s food supply I had no fear. I was confident my collection of grains could provide plenty of porridge to sustain us until this insidious virus would be defeated.
The Art of Bread Baking
I have only a few memories of my mother baking bread from scratch. Hers was bread made with store-bought flour which was far removed from the local grain harvested from our own fields and sold throughout the world.
One day early in our marriage, Micheal walked through the front door of our apartment in Norfolk at precisely the time I was hurling a brick of freshly baked whole-wheat bread across the room. I was relieved that he ducked in the nick of time, and grateful when he wiped away my angry tears and encouraged me to keep on.
As a young and insecure wife, I was determined to master this basic skill of bread baking – a skill that I believed at the time – would elevate me from the hum-drum-housewife to an honorable homemaker worthy of praise!
Clearly I had a long way to go, but with perseverance – and numerous discarded loaves – I can report that I succeeded. And yes, I received plenty of praise over the years for breads made from organic grains milled in my own grinder, but we know praise is fleeting and it did nothing for my identity.
Eating the Bread of Idleness
I can’t remember where my passion for bread-baking came from. Perhaps it came from repeatedly reading a favorite storybook: The Little Red Hen.
You know the story. Red Hen finds a grain of wheat. Red Hen plants it, harvests it and grinds it into flour. Then she bakes it into a deliciously-browned and perfectly-shaped loaf of bread.
Through every step of the bread-baking process Red Hen invited her farmyard friends to share in the process. Alas, they were too busy, too lazy, and too disinterested to be bothered!
That is, until it was time to enjoy a slice of the warm loaf right out of little Red Hen’s oven! Since no one joined Red Hen in the task of baking the loaf, Little Red Hen, with her feathers ruffled, ran away with the loaf to eat it alone. She’d earned this right, right?
Her behavior made sense to my child-mind. My grandfather and father often reminded my siblings and I, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat!” This instilled in us a work-ethic espoused by Paul to the Thessalonians (2 Thess 3:10b). I’m guessing the story was handy to denounce socialism while praising capitalism.
In later years I realized there was a problem with this teaching. My older sister – with limbs lame from birth – has lived her entire life from a wheelchair. She is unable to work – not because she is slothful or lazy as Red Hen’s friends were depicted to be. When any of us four children complained about our chores she quickly chimed in, “Would if I could! Would if I could!” I believe she meant it. Did she deserve to eat?
Unfortunately, there are radical thinkers who would argue a person’s failure to produce precludes them from consuming. But most of us, thankfully, recognize that we are more than justified we are actually commanded to provide food, shelter, and sustenance to the least of these in our midst.
The Undeserved Bread of Blessing
When God created humanity God blessed them saying, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of the earth … for food” (Gen 1:28-29). No doubt this included an abundant array of grains. God’s good provision continues even after the first couple sinned and were removed from God’s presence. Did they deserve to be fed? Apparently so because the earth continued to provide and the sun continued to shine.
I’m reminded of the Hebrew people rescued from Egypt. They had left the region of Elim, a place with twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees where they were able to sit in the shade (Ex 15:27), but upon entering the wilderness of Sin, on their way to Mt Sinai they were whining and pining away for the bread of Egypt (Ex 16:3).
If ever there was a time for God to be justified in not providing, if ever a people were underserving of a free hand-out, this would be the time. Yet we see how God provides manna every morning with meat on the menu every evening. The manna, harvested from the ground sustained them for 40 years before they reached the promised land (Ex 16:35). And if you recall, there were many unfaithful Hebrews benefiting from the manna and the meat who failed to enter the promised land (Num 13, 14). God provided for them as well, along with all those who eventually entered into the promised land.
It appears God has a different understanding of social responsibility to the other than we do.
I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE
In John’s lengthy discourse in chapter 6, Jesus rebuked the crowd for following him (John 6:25-26). Why? They wanted more bread! And yes, this sounds like they wanted a free handout. They wanted bread like what had been miraculously provided when Jesus fed the multitudes (John 6:1-14).
Jesus responded by saying, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).
In case they (and those of us reading today) fail to comprehend Jesus’s meaning he repeated this two more times for effect:
“I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE!” (John 6:48).
And again, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).
Unlike Little Red Hen – who refused to share bread with those who contributed no labor in the economy of all things bread-baking – Jesus, the very Bread of Life who came down from heaven, offered himself freely to a most undeserving world with nothing to contribute.
The Bread of Life miraculously provided bread for the many in the multitudes who had done little to deserve a free meal. If we desire to follow in Jesus’s footsteps, it might be time to rethink our understanding of social responsibility, our practice of caring for our neighbors, and especially how we should care for the least of these in our midst.
This may be simply sharing a warm loaf of bread with another. But I believe there is more. In order to validate the words we teach about the One we call Bread of Life, we must model it. This may require providing physical bread and more – even to those who we deem undeserving. After all, this is what God did and continues to do and what Jesus did when freely offering his body and his blood to an underserving humanity.