2022-11-23

Breaking Bread

As isolated humans formed societies, they felt protected, could trade easier, and the expanded association boosted the gene pool, but more people in a concentrated space necessitated an expansion of food cultivation. Bread, created mostly from harvested wheat, moved to the center of the menu in ancient Europe, West Asia, and North Africa. Similarly, the center staple in the Americas was a form of bread built on a different grain: maize, and in East Asia, the grain was rice.

Early wheat, called Emmer, grew wild, and success in making bread from it led to genetic tinkering to create the first domestically cultivated wheat, called Einkorn. As bread became a common food, those who grew it got some safety because of it. Marauding non-societal humans raided settlements, but they could not easily steal wheat in the field or carry off more than a few sacks of grain. They were likely to demand tribute (some of the sacks of grain) in exchange for sparing the family and the dwellings. Should the marauders take an entire village, grain farmers were still needed, so why not leave them to ply their trade?

From antiquity to today, the aroma of freshly baked bread, made by loving hands, excites the senses, especially the sense of smell. As in older times, it is common for bread to be offered as a gift to patrons, along with a menu in many restaurants. The phrase, “Let us break bread together,” means that someone offered to share their bread with you, that you are welcome in their home as an honored guest.

It may be that because bread was so essential to humans, that Jesus mentioned it when he formed the prayer (“The Lord’s Prayer”) that he taught to his disciples. One line in the prayer is “Give us this day, our daily bread.” Manna, said to have fallen from Heaven for the Hebrews during their exodus from bondage in Egypt, was described to be like bread. Bread offered to patrons or to strangers is grace. To ask God for daily bread or to receive manna from Heaven is God’s grace.

In the modern Western world, most bread is processed by a far away industrial bakery, formed into a loaf, pre-sliced for the consumer’s convenience, functional, practical, and familiar. But, the mouth-watering aroma, the feeling of welcome in its serving, and grace itself is missing. “Here is your sandwich. Eat it.”

Jesus used the bread of his last evening meal to explain to his disciples how his earthly ministry would end and the need for their ministry to begin (the founding of Christianity). Web search the book of Matthew 26: 17-30. Jesus broke the bread and shared the pieces as symbols of his grace for them and for all of mankind. Broken bread is not sliced equally. Some disciples surely got big pieces and others got small ones, but there too, symbolism is rich. Each person receives the grace of God. We get such grace that we need, not what we want.

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