Bread - it is a simple word, yet it can mean so much. Bread is the simple food staple. At the food pantry, the volunteers always encourage the clients to take bread because there is plenty to go around. Bread is simple to make with a few ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. Let it rise, bake it until crusty. Voila! Bread. It can be fancy with nuts and seeds, sweet with sugar and cinnamon and fruit. It can be flat and hard, or made with zucchini or bananas. Bread is life. Bread can also be death, though, to those who are allergic to wheat or other ingredients, but often for those cases, a bread alternative is found. Bread is so vital, I know I could just keep eating bread. Even when I am full, I still want more. With this human reliance on bread, it is little mystery why Jesus refers to himself as the bread of life, the living bread. Vital, enduring, constant, satisfying, and there even when we, for whatever reason, don't want bread, don't want Him.
On Sunday, once again the gospel reading will be from John's gospel. It is number two in a string of five readings from the same gospel that all focus on Jesus as the Bread of Life, and the inability of the people to grasp exactly what it meant. The people are looking for something they can physically consume, a message that will meet their own wants, stated as needs. When Jesus feeds their physical hunger, the people demand more material comfort, disregarding the spiritual healing. When Jesus refuses, takes himself apart to be refreshed to continue his mission elsewhere, the people follow, demanding to know why he moved from where they expected him to be. They wish to consume Jesus - he is the Bread of Life, is he not?
When I read these biblical stories, something that comes to mind is how today the video media portray priests and pastors, and how that feeds into the message of material comfort or mission. There is a TV series produced by Netflix called Daredevil. In it, a young vigilante makes a habit of sitting on a bench outside a Catholic Church. It is the character's moment of rest and reflection, and a time for the directors to interrupt the plot, give a breather to the audience. In the story, whenever the priest notices the young man, the priest invites him to chat about what is on his heart. The young man refuses repeatedly to unburden himself. Finally, the priest says, "Someone donated one of those fancy latte machines. I can't offer you a cup of regular coffee, but I can make you a mean espresso if you ever feel like coming in for a chat." The offer of material comfort finally brought the young man inside. Jesus the Coffee of Life just does not have the same ring to it, though, as Bread.
As we read these next stories from John's gospel over the next few weeks, think of the signs. The people of Jesus' time were limited in their ability to recognize a miracle as something more than the materially fulfilling miracle. The young vigilante in the TV series thought he knew what signs would lead him to his destiny, but through other characters learns there is another way. What signs do we overlook or disregard?