As I continue to fast bread during Lent, I am looking for the significance of bread in Scripture. The middle eastern understanding of bread is quite different than that of the western mindset. We have a white doughy substance which can be rolled up between two fingers into a perfect ball. It gets stuck on the roof of your mouth and tastes something like pasty air.
The bread from the time of Jesus would have been quite a different substance. First of all, the grain would have been much more whole, so there would be no ball rolling with this bread. Middle Eastern views on the blessing of food, brings along with it a respect for it. They would never engage in food fights, or play with their food.
“As the son of a Syrian family I was brought up to think of bread as possessing a mystic sacred significance. I never would step on a piece of bread fallen in the road, but would pick it up, press it to my lips for reverence, and place it in a wall or on some other place where it would not be trodden upon. What always seemed to me to be one of the noblest traditions of my people was their reverence to the “aish” (bread; literally “the life-giver”). While breaking bread together we would not rise to salute an arriving guest, whatever the social rank. Whether spoken or not, our excuse for not rising and engaging in the cordial (Near East) salutation before the meal was ended, was our reverence for the food (hir-metal-‘aish). We could, however, and always did, invite the newcomer most urgently to partake of the repast…The ‘aish was something more than mere matter. Inasmuch as it sustained life, it was God’s own life made tangible for his child, man, to feed upon. The Most High Himself fed our hunger. Does not the psalmist say, “Thou openest thine hand, and satisfieth the desire of every living thing.”? (From The Syrian Christ by Abraham Rihbany, published 1916.)
Bread means literally “the life-giver”, so when Jesus proclaimed that He was the Bread of Life, He is saying that He is the life giver. Even aside from the respect given to the bread used as one of the elements in the Eucharist, in some parts of the world, bread is respected as a life-giver and treated with dignity as something to be truly grateful for.
Give us this day, our daily bread. Give us today life from heaven. Just the right portion. Not too much, or too little. We are to be given the right amount of life so that we are able to accomplish His will today, reminding one of the Scripture that reads, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34
The children of Israel were given bread. They were given only what they needed for that day. When they were greedy, the bread became wormy. The word for that bread, or manna as it was called, is correctly translated, “What is it?” When Jesus came, He became the true bread from Heaven. And we still argue amongst ourselves. What is it? Does the bread of Holy Communion become the actual body of Christ? Or is it only a symbol?
One thing is certain. Long before the Last Supper, bread was a symbol. A common subject of an object lesson to the people of its time, symbolizing life, fulfillment and provision.
Jesus has given us His life in exchange for our own poor excuse of a life. He gave us beauty for ashes, and a hope for a good future because of His supreme sacrifice. He nourishes our soul, just as bread nourishes our bodies. He brings the necessary nutrients and health to us, but He also satisfies our spirits. I don’t know any food substance that satisfies hunger quite like bread. Believe me, in not eating bread for a month now, I can’t tell you how much I miss it. It satisfies. Jesus satisfies the soul in a way only He can. When we hunger and thirst for Him He fills us with food that we may never hunger again.
One reason there was once so much respect for bread is because it was recognized as provision. It was a major staple in a well stocked home. If you had bread, life was good. We have the Bread of Life, and therefore Life is very good.