Then Jesus declared, “I am the Bread of Life…” John 6: 35.
When I shop for bread in America, I push my cart to the bakery area, briefly stare at the multiple choices that I have—rye, whole-grain, honey-wheat, French, Italian, seven-grain, etc.—and then try to buy the most nutritious loaf I can for the best value. The bread is brought home and made into toast or sandwiches. I give little thought to how the bread is made, what value it has in my daily life, and whether or not I could live without it. I love bread in all shapes, sizes, and textures, but beside an occasional toast craving it is a miniscule part of my life.
What was Jesus actually trying to say when He stated, “I am the Bread of Life” to some very hungry people who had followed Him and hunted Him down to get a free meal (John 6)? I have lived for the past seven years in Afghanistan, a very traditional culture that practices customs which have been handed down for generations. In many ways it is a culture that reflects the time period that Jesus walked and taught in much more than does our modern-day culture. Because of this, I have begun to understand this concept of the “Bread of Life” more completely as I have entered into these ancient ways of life.
The huge mud oven stood before me. I watched, fascinated, as the man stuck the circular flat dough onto the sides of the blazing tandoor bare-handed. This is done three times a day through the heat of summer, the cold of winter, and the rains of spring. After the flat bread was finished baking I watched him stick a hot metal poker into the oven to dislodge the pieces easily, one by one. He grabbed them and proceeded to throw them under a wool blanket to keep them warm as long as possible. I paid my 20 Afghanis (40 cents) and popped two hot crispy nans into my cloth bag designated for bread. The man behind me did the same, but he bought ten of them.
Nan (flatbread) is found all over the country in different shapes and sizes. There are boat nans, oblong and thin; there are circular nans with holes pricked all over them in fancy designs; there is nan-e-khonagee (literally bread from home), which is huge circular nan made of coarsely-ground wheat flour and baked at home. This is a personal favorite of mine. There is nan that is torn off and eaten with kabobs, and nan that is used in sandwich wraps. All of these are NOT made in a factory, but are rather made by women who get up at three o’clock in the morning so that fresh bread can be ready to sell in the bazaar. It is carted by the children of the home in wheel barrows and sold along the side of the road for people’s breakfasts.
There are also professional bakers, who are men, who get up equally early and make the dough to cook and sell their nan on the street-corner tandoors. In our part of the country, donkeys are loaded down with a special brush that they carry in to burn in the tandoors to give the nan a particular flavor. All of this nan is sold for 10-20 cents a piece.
But, this is just the start…bread is the main staple eaten two to three times a day, but throughout this mountainous country in communities that are remote and far from city centers, people live throughout the whole winter on nan and tea. That is all they have. The bread keeps them just one step away from starvation. Give us today our daily bread.
Farmers throughout the country work hard to get their wheat crop in as soon as the melting snows will allow. Some places of the country are fortunate; it is warm enough to get two crops in during the short growing season, and more wheat equals more bread. In the parts with high altitude the snows melt long enough for only one crop. Valuable animals will be traded and sold later to obtain more of this precious commodity.
Ten years ago, after the fall of the Taliban, an incentive arose throughout the rural countryside to encourage families to send their daughters to school. They were promised that every month a bag of wheat would be given to the family for each girl who was in school; girls started enrolling in schools in masses. Women also began entering adult literacy courses and other skills courses for the promise that at the end of the course a bag of wheat was the prize—wheat which would all be used for making precious bread that keeps little stomachs full and old ones happy. This was a worthwhile trade for a population which was usually made to stay at home to be allowed out of their homes. Who could say no to a bag of wheat!
I have witnessed, much to my shame, a girl enter my yard, pick up a leftover piece of nan that the dog had left on the ground, kiss it and place it high up on a window ledge. Leftover bread is recycled. It gets rock hard after a day or two, so anything left is ground up into bread crumbs and fed to chickens, cows, goats, or donkeys. It is revered. There are strict rules about throwing it out and how it should be carried, and there are stories that honor it.
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty.” (John 6: 35). Are you seeing how meaningful it was for Jesus to call Himself the “Bread of Life” to this group of people who had previously been part of the feeding of the five thousand? The people at that time also seemed to have bread as their main staple, which means they would also have spent an enormous time planting it, watering it, praying against drought, harvesting it, grinding it, and then baking with it.
As I process this, I understand that Jesus was saying to them, “I am it—revolve your lives around Me! I will nourish and take care of your deepest desires. I am IT—that thing you crave so much and think about three times a day, that which will not only keep you one step away from death and starvation, but which will also cause you to thrive.”
…if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…(John 6: 51). The next time you throw that loaf of bread enclosed in plastic into your cart, just remember your “Bread of your Life!”
© 2013 Thrive.
Question to Consider: What things like “daily bread” are reminders that point you to Jesus?