Bienaventurado el que no cambia el sueño de su vida por el pan de cada día.
Blessed are those who do not exchange the dreams of their lives for their daily bread.
―Facundo Cabral, Argentina
Daily bread is the thing we all need to survive.
We need to eat. Sadly, because we’re still not good at sharing, some people don’t always get their daily bread. But even for those of us who do, that daily bread doesn’t last long. The very next day, we’re asking for it again. So it’s important to differentiate between “daily bread” and “living bread.”
To be frank, I’m wondering just how many times we need to talk about bread before we can move on to another metaphor. I get it, though, why the author of John’s Gospel has to have Jesus reiterate it again and again. The crowds in Capernaum or wherever he goes take time to “get” what’s going on. And Jesus’ disciples usually don’t get it either. And we often don’t get it.
So here we go again with bread.
This time, though, John’s Gospel makes sure that we as readers are not confused. He has Jesus say:
Yes, it’s Greek, and it means I AM.
You may be familiar with I AM from the story of the burning bush and Moses encountering G-d. I AM is a “G-d” declaration.
So in essence, Jesus is saying: I AM G-d, and G-d is the bread of life.
The twist is that the divine name of God is now linked to something earthly, i.e. bread.
It’s an inflammatory statement, to be sure. And John wants us to think as much. There’s high drama and conflict here, but not as some paint it, i.e. a battle between “Jews” and “Jesus followers.”
John’s Gospel was reaching out to a variety of people, including Jews, non-Jews, and Jews who were Hellenized or outside of typical Jewish circles. It’s an unfortunate translation to assume that “the Jews” rejected Jesus’ message. It’s better to say that the Temple Authorities of Judea weren’t too happy about it.
Keep in mind that John’s Gospel was most likely written by a Jewish person, about Jewish disciples, and of course, written to promote the message and life of a Jewish Jesus of Nazareth. John was written about the conflicts within Judaism itself and how people saw Jesus. So, yeah—put away the anti-Semitism, please.
Anyhoo….the Judeans, probably overly emotional, got the message wrong. They claimed that Jesus himself said that he was “the bread that came down out of heaven” but actually, Jesus said earlier: “the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven” (6:33), and then: “I am the bread of life” (6:35).
It happens to all of us. Sometimes we let our emotions take over, and we push aside common sense.
Jesus’ statements were only inflammatory because the temple authorities were looking for something inflammatory. He probably could have said:
I’m Jesus, and I make things out of wood. That’s what carpenters do. How cool is that, Judeans?
And they still would have found fault with it.
Often people [including us] don’t like to wake up to a new reality. We prefer the status quo, even if it’s false. Jesus was trying to help people [including the Judeans] to see a new reality. Jesus uses the phrase “truly, truly” to grab their attention, and what follows is oft-misinterpreted/mistranslated:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever ______ has eternal life.
Yes, believe is inserted in the blank as an English translation for a Greek word that really means faith in or trust.
This isn’t about believing in something [like a doctrine or dogma] in order to obtain eternal life.
This is about reorienting one’s thinking in order to live differently and more fully.
So I thought about that, and what that might mean today.
In this life, with all the distractions and all the things that people tell us we should do or think or believe, it’s easy to feel down about it all sometimes, isn’t it? Depression, fear, and loneliness can soon become our realities.
Now, they are real emotions and I’m not discounting that.
But rather than saying “I am depressed, fearful, or lonely” what if we limit them to what they are?
They are feelings.
And if so, perhaps we might be able to see depression or fear or loneliness as mere distractions from what is real.
You see, so much of what we think and do in this world today is not actually what we WANT to do; or even what we feel is right, healthy, wonderful, and life-giving.
We often feel depressed, fearful, or lonely because our behaviors and our lifestyle don’t bring us any joy or fulfillment. We go about daily routines without blinking, even if those routines are killing us little by little.
We are so distracted away from what is truly life.
If you feel depressed, perhaps it is because of something or someone you feel that you have lost. Consider this, however: can we really lose someone or something? Isn’t it true that everything you have was given to you? How can you lose that which was never yours?
Fernando Cabral wrote:
…Life does not subtract things, it liberates you from them. It makes you lighter so that you can fly higher and reach the fullness. From cradle to grave, it is a school, and that is why those predicaments that you call problems are lessons, indeed. You lost nobody; the one who died is just going ahead, because we all are going there. Besides this, the best of him/her, his/her love, is still in your heart.
If you feel fearful, perhaps this is because the unknown is out of your control and so even the very thought of tomorrow becomes something to be afraid of. And yet, tomorrow does not exist. Only this moment does. You are absolutely able to be aware of the present moment, and entirely capable of embracing it as it is. And in doing so, tomorrow becomes less important, because honestly, none of us can know if we will even wake up tomorrow.
And if you feel lonely, first of all, consider that time by yourself is a treasure. Don’t let others tell you that being by yourself is bad. Many people never experience it, because we’re so conditioned to think that being alone is weird or unhealthy. But there is so much you can learn about yourself and the world by spending time alone! You are the only one who truly knows what you feel and what you think; embrace that. And keep in mind that there are billions of others on this planet—not to mention the billions of living creatures all around you. We are not alone.
For me, reorientation and waking up means recognizing feelings for what they are and then allowing myself to be consumed by life itself. It means doing what we love with reckless abandon. It means letting things come to you naturally, and moving with the flow of the world around you. It means being free of shame, guilt, obligation, and grudges—things which only cause harm and separate us. Reorientation means caring for yourself so that you are freer to be your whole self and freer to love others.
In my view, this is what the metaphor of bread of life is about.
Each one of us chooses whether to see this bread [which is life] as freedom, or as limitation.
I choose freedom, and I hope you will, too.
I choose life and fulfillment, and pursuing the things and the relationships that make me happy, challenge me to be a better person, and encourage me to be fully me.
What will you choose? Friends, every day can be a waking up and reorientation day for you. Each moment you can be consumed by life itself.