By David Faust
The tastes and textures make your mouth water. Whole wheat, sourdough, marble rye, multi-grain. Italian bread, southern-style biscuits, French baguettes, golden braids of challah from a kosher delicatessen. And what about those homemade rolls Grandma pulls from the oven on Thanksgiving Day?
In the days of the patriarchs the mysterious king-priest Melchizedek “brought out bread and wine” to share with Abraham (Genesis 14:18). When the Israelites wandered in the wilderness God nourished them with frosted flakes—”thin flakes like frost” that appeared daily on the desert floor. Baked or boiled, this flaky bread tasted like honey-flavored wafers. The people called the strange-looking substance “manna,” which means “What is it?” (Exodus 16).
God was known for providing daily bread, so it’s not surprising the Gospels tell how Jesus fed the hungry crowds by starting with nothing but a boy’s five loaves and two fish. The scene was picturesque and the process was orderly: “Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties”—which made it easier to count the total number fed (Mark 6:39, 40). The crowd actually numbered far more, because “the number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children” (Matthew 14:21). When all had eaten and were satisfied, “the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish” (Mark 6:43). Waste not, want not.
More fascinating than the miracle’s math is its aftermath. Jesus used the feast as a teaching moment. “I am the bread of life,” he said. “Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.” Jesus’ hard-hitting sermon made it plain that he’s more than a free meal ticket, and as a result, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:48, 49, 66). Amazingly, even after he repeated the miracle by feeding 4,000 with seven loaves and a few small fish, the Pharisees demanded to see “a sign from heaven” (Mark 8:11)—as if two miraculous meals were not enough!
Even more remarkable is the response of Jesus’ closest disciples. They saw the miracles close-up. They personally gathered up the leftovers. The night after the feeding of the 5,000, they saw Jesus walk on water. Yet they responded with fear and amazement because “they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:52).
This week many of us will enjoy a Thanksgiving meal so large that bread is only part of the feast. But do we really understand about the loaves?
Do we see that our blessings are more than merely the product of good fortune or our own hard work? Will we sincerely express our gratitude to the Giver of every good and perfect gift? Will we thank God for our spiritual blessings as well as the ones we see and taste and touch? Do we understand that Jesus is the Bread of Life who alone can satisfy our hungry souls? Do we see God’s hand of grace in his hard teachings as well as in his pleasant blessings?
Every tasty bite of food is a gift from God, but we don’t live by bread alone. And that’s something to chew on as we enjoy our Thanksgiving dinners.