Bread in Christianity
By Joe Palathunkal
Ahmedabad: In August 2017 India will complete 70 years of independence or freedom. On this occasion our bone of contention is bread, and literally.
It is a matter of shame and outrage that innocent citizens are lynched in the name of bread. From Mohammad Akhlaq to 17-year-old Junaid Khan, the story is harrowing, and it throws India into the dustbin of history declaring it an unfit nation to be part of 21st century AD.
There is no freedom if a nation’s citizens have no choice of bread, if they cannot choose what they want to eat for their nourishment, strength and taste. And by bread I mean food that human beings normally eat for their sustenance.
In this context I would like to reflect on bread in Christianity.
Bread has a very great significance in Christian tradition and history. In the Old Testament God showered bread from heaven for the hungry Israeli people sojourning in the African desert. God gave them manna and the meat of the quails to nourish them and strengthen them. But God strictly prohibited them not to hoard for tomorrow but eat for today.
“Give us today our daily bread,” Jesus reminds us, and India’s great theologian Jesuit Father Samuel Rayan poetically warns us, “Rice is for sharing/ bread must be broken and given. …/ to leave a single bowl unfilled/ is to rob history of its meaning; / to grab many a bowl for myself is / to empty history of god.”
Undoubtedly, in Christianity bread is for sharing with those who do not have it. Jesus always shared bread with others even in the Last Supper. Your last judgment will be on this count: “I was hungry, you gave me bread.” In Christian theology if you don’t share bread, it is a moral affront.
That is why (Jesuit Superior General) Father Pedro Arrupe said, as long as there are hungry anywhere in the world, our Eucharistic celebration will be incomplete everywhere in the world. Love your neighbor as yourself will be complete only when we share bread with the hungry and starving. When Jesus saw a crowd of hungry and tired people, he asked his disciples to give them food, and when the disciples expressed their helplessness Jesus multiplied the five loaves and two fish to feed a crowd of five thousand and more and fed them to their satisfaction.
Here is the option for the poor as a theological call, and that is why theologian Jon Sobrino of El Salvador says theologizing as “a praxis supporting the life of the poor and combating their poverty as the answer to the highest ethical demand”.
And sharing the bread with all is possible only when we accept all food as good, we cannot add a moral tag to a particular food and brand the people who eat it as high or low, pure or impure. This is the universality of food. In the Acts of the Apostles we find Peter having a dream during a siesta one afternoon and he saw a sheet with all kinds of animals coming down from heaven with this voice “kill and eat.”
Whenever Jesus gave bread it was accompanied by fish or wine and with that he was declaring the universality of food. If we don’t accept this universality of food, we will divide people in the name of food and can create barbaric conflicts. That is why Jesus never even mentioned what to eat and what not to eat because he knew as God that such a categorization can lead to inhumanity and barbarism militating against his Abba experience of God as Father and all human beings as His equal children.
There is no food taboo for Jesus. It is quite evident in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 12. As Jesus and his disciples were passing through a field of grain on a Sabbath, the hungry disciples began to pluck the ear of grain and started eating. The Pharisees raise a hue and cry saying, “Your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the Sabbath.” Jesus enlightens them recalling what King David did when he and his companions felt hungry. They went into the House of God and ate the bread of offering which was meant only for the priests.
Here Jesus was cogently arguing and perspicaciously establishing a great bread-truth that no bread can be branded and food was for hunger and the hungry; don’t say this bread is an offering one and only the priests can have it. Thus Jesus broke all the food taboos for all the people all over the world.
This universality of bread, therefore, means bread is for all and all bread is for all and all bread is good. This is quite evident from the etymological meaning and implications of the word “meat.” The Webster’s dictionary says the word “meat” means food especially solid food as distinguished from drink; the edible part of something as distinguished from its covering. In the dictionary, only the second meaning is, animal tissue used as food.
If meat means food in general, it shows how widespread was the use of meat as food. Since it was so much in vogue, people did not make any distinction between meat and vegetables and it must be kept in mind that the terms ‘vegetarian’ and ‘non-vegetarian’ are rather recent and pertains mainly to India especially the North India. In my childhood, I had never seen a board vegetarian in front of any restaurant in Kerala. In the Western world or Christian world, you may not find such a vegetarian tag for any eatery except for some owned and managed by the Indians.
The scientific description of meat by Collins Concise Encyclopedia tells us how important it is for human life. Accordingly, meat means, flesh of animals, especially sheep, pigs and cattle, used as food composed mainly of muscle and connective tissue, and contains fat, vitamin B, minerals such as iron, and large amount of protein. Cooking meat helps coagulate blood and albumen, improve flavor, soften and sterilize it.
From this angle, it is crystal clear that meat is an imperative for human life, growth and sustenance. That is why Christianity never made a taboo in the name of meat or food. So it is an absolute canard that Christianity is for vegetarianism and some demented elements have even written it in school textbooks. I wonder from where they cull out such absolute lies and hollow information. It is unscientific and unsustainable.
Since meat is so essential for human life, Christianity always supported and advocated the universality of food, and fought against all kinds of discrimination in the name of food because for Christians a human being is ‘worth more than a thousand sparrows’. So human beings must not be denied food that helps to grow and become strong.
And in Christianity God Himself is bread and Jesus calls himself the bread from heaven that will give abundance of life. After the Resurrection Jesus is recognized by his disciples in the breaking of the bread proving how God is identified with bread, one with bread or food of human being. If God is bread, whenever we attack and kill people in the name of bread, we are attacking and killing God; whenever we brand human beings as high and low, pure and impure, in the name of bread, we are insulting God.
So, if Christians support such a thinking and acting directly or indirectly, it will be a mortal sin against God and human being, because for Christians Jesus is the bread that came down from heaven to give life to all human beings till the ends of the Earth and the end of the world. All the Christians must bear this in mind as individuals and churches.
[Joe (Jo) Palathunkal (Joseph Palathunkal Mathew) M A; MHR; PGDM, is a poet, essayist, human rights ideologue and teacher. Mob. 9726800249)