Good Bread

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Corpus Christi
June 19, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Of all the aromas that emanate from a kitchen, none matches the nostalgia-inducing scent of a freshly baked loaf of bread. Yet, many people avoid bread today because of health concerns. Bread is bad, say many nutrition experts. Today's gospel text takes another view, and even goes so far as to advocate for what the reading describes as the "Bread of Life."

It used to be that bread was good for you. Many still believe it is. Bread-believers remember grandmother with an apron cinched around her waist and flour dust in her hair for whom bread-making was a part of the weekly routine in the farmhouse kitchen.

In the modern kitchen, however, one might find a pound or two of flour, but that's for cookies, not bread baking, the occasional bread machine notwithstanding. But in grandma's kitchen, a pound of flour wouldn't get her past 8 o'clock in the morning. Grandma went through flour like there was no tomorrow. She didn't deal in one-pound sacks; she had a kitchen hutch with a bin full of flour and she kept it full. Some of these cabinets had built-in sifters, and if she didn't have a sifter, she might have given you the task of sifting the flour. By the time the two of you had baked five loaves of bread, you'd both be dusted in flour, head to toe, looking like ghosts.

Grandma needed flour for baking bread, because back then, bread was good for you.

But then, bread became bad.

There was a practical reason for this. After World War II, women entered the workforce in astounding numbers and women didn't have time to bake bread. Slowly, the dominant aroma in American kitchens was TV dinners on TV trays, not bread covered by a hand towel cooling on a trivet.

Today, there are also health concerns. For some, bread needs to be gluten-free, because the gluten in bread may contribute to celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which "gluten damages the lining of your small intestine and impairs nutrient absorption."1 Gluten may also cause issues like bloating, diarrhea and stomach pain. Bad bread.

Others worry about carbohydrates. One writer alleges that "eating one slice of bread is like eating one tablespoon of sugar."2 Bad bread! Eating bread can increase "hunger while possibly promoting a higher body weight and an increased risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome."3

These are a few of the reasons some people think that "good bread" is an oxymoron. There's no good bread, they say. It's all bad bread.

Bread in the Bible

Given that the scripture readings for today are about bread, you might rightly assume that they aren't speaking about bad bread.

In fact, in the Bible, bread is rarely, if ever, used in a negative way. The Lord Jesus himself advised us to pray for our "daily bread."4 The salvation of the ancient Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years depended on the daily arrival of a bread-like substance known as manna. While in the Negev desert, Elijah, the great prophet of Israel, lived on bread delivered to him by drone-like ravens. When Elijah visited the widow of Zarephath, she was down to her last morsel of flour with which to bake a couple of cakes for herself and her son, before laying down to die. Of course, God, through his prophet Elijah, intervened.5

In the Bible, to have bread was to live. To be denied bread was to face certain death.

One more example from the life of Elijah. One day, Elijah was with a crowd of at least 100 people. A man approached him with the "first fruits" of his harvest which amounted to 20 loaves of bread and some ears of corn. Elijah told his servant to distribute this to the crowd. Here's what happened: "But his servant said, 'How can I set this before a hundred people?' So he repeated, 'Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, "They shall eat and have some left."' He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD."6

The "Bread of Life"

Does this story sound familiar? It should, because it resonates in several details with the Gospel reading according to St. Luke for this Sunday which tells the story of Jesus feeding thousands of people.

It is no wonder, then, that this story in Luke is preceded by references to the prophet Elijah. In verses 7-10, the Bible says that "Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some ... that Elijah had appeared ...." At the conclusion of the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people, Jesus asked the disciples what the crowds were saying about him. "They answered, 'John the Baptist, but others Elijah ....'" (v. 19).

In these early days of Jesus' ministry, people are beginning to notice him. There's a lot of street talk. The chatter is loud and for some, the buzz is annoying. Because of all this attention, Jesus tries to help people understand who he is. He often used metaphors: He told a woman from Samaria in a conversation at the city well that he was the "living water." 7 But he also said,

Arguably, the most powerful description of his messianic role as well as his relationship with those he came to save from destruction, however, was his statement that he is "the bread of life": "Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'"12 Jesus said this, according to St. John's Gospel, the day after the feeding of the 5,000.13 No surprise, then, that Jesus described himself as the "bread of life."

Bread that can feed us so that we are never hungry again is good bread. It is the ultimate "miracle bread" a[euro]* a reference to some keto and paleo carb-friendly, no knead, artisan breads available at some upscale bakeries.

As the "bread of life," Jesus feeds us in a way that brings to a halt our search for salvation and meaning in life. Eat this bread, and search no more.

But Jesus not only says that he is the "bread of life," he also implies that he is the water of life. Drinking of this water, one will never thirst again, he says. Jesus is our bread and our water.

This now brings us to our second reading, St. Paul's letter to the church at Corinth, because it is here that we understand that when Jesus refers to himself as good bread and living water, he is speaking specifically about his body and his blood. Like bread, his body of Christ was made to be broken; like water, the blood of Christ was intended to be poured out.

The body and blood of Christ

In both readings for today, Eucharistic imagery is prominent. Think for a moment of Elijah's feeding of the 100 men. Although the stories are similar, there are at least three prominent differences between the manner in which prophet Elijah and the Messiah handle the bread. When Jesus took the bread, unlike Elijah, first he looked to heaven, then he blessed the elements and finally he broke the bread. In other words, he remembered his relationship to God the Father, he gave thanks for the special purpose for which the bread was intended, and he broke it so that it could be shared for all. In so doing, he portended the elements of the Eucharist which we observe today and to which St. Paul alludes in the reading from 1 Corinthians 11. "The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'"

The bread is broken. The broken bread is "for you."

It is good bread.

Eating this bread, we shall never hunger again. We have no need of other breads that are bad for us. We can stop searching for food that doesn't satisfy. The broken body of Christ and the shed blood of Christ are reminders that in Christ we have found our "all in all."

It's a truth of which Pope Francis reminded us when he referred to the Gospel reading when speaking at a Sunday mass at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican in 2015. The pope urged the crowds to look beyond their material needs to Jesus as the bread of life. The crowds had followed Jesus because he had multiplied the loaves, the pope said. "They had given more value to the bread than to its provider. ... Jesus points to the need to go beyond the gift and discover the giver."

Then he said, "Jesus does not eliminate the preoccupation with and search for daily food. No. ... But Jesus reminds us that in the end, the true meaning of our earthly existence is in eternity, is in the encounter with him, who is the gift and the giver."

The pontiff concluded by saying that, "It is the hunger for life - the hunger for eternity - that only he can satisfy because he is the bread of life."14

Yes, Jesus is good bread.

Thanks be to God! Amen.


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