Day 5: Jesus is the Bread of Life
Yesu Jeevadaayaka Rotti (Kannada)
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. -John 6:35
The Christmases of my childhood were tedious. More correctly, the run-up to Christmas was. For weeks, my mother conscripted us children into the making of festival food. There were marble-sized bits to be pinched off a great big mountain of sweetened and spiced dough. The dough bits were then delicately flattened on the back of a fork and rolled off it into little curly cylinders. The kalkals, as they were called, were deep fried into golden-brown nuggets and finally frosted with sugar syrup.
These were only one item in a list of must-makes for Christmas. Backs went sore and fingers groaned with fatigue. You could smell our house halfway down the street–the warm smells of shredded coconut toasting, of molasses melting, of sugar caramelizing.
On the evening of Christmas Day, my mother loaded plates with assorted short eats and covered them with white lace napkins. My duty was to ferry a plate to each of the neighbours, most of whom were not Christian. What we were offering them was a plate of mouth-wateringly fragrant, edible Christmas.
That’s what food is about in India. Food is to give away. Food is an invitation to relatives and friends. Food is what you take to the home of someone sick. When someone dies, the tradition is that the kitchen stove should go unlit for a couple of days to let others lovingly bring the meals. When guests come by, whatever the time of day or night, we first invite them to eat. And so, when we built a house of our own, we had the front door opening directly into the dining room. This cultural priority on hospitality is why we have the Big Fat Indian Wedding. The guest list is rarely in the hundreds and nearly always in the thousands!
Curiously, the Age to Come that the prophet Isaiah describes sounds suspiciously like a Big Fat Indian Wedding: “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines” (Isaiah 25:6). Like any Indian feast, it is the most extravagant spread the host can afford. But, unlike any other feast, the feast is the Host himself: Jesus.
Jesus said: “I am the Bread of Life.” Our Christian response to that can be generously “Indian.” Having “tasted” him, we feed on him every day. We snack on him all by ourselves. We relish him in the company of fellow-Christians. Beyond that, we find joy in offering him to others—to the Muslim neighbour, whose sleepless nights are riddled with anxiety; to the atheist cousin who drops by to say she’s been laid off work; to the nominally Christian friend just diagnosed with a terminal illness; to the seeker in our church Bible Study group who has just lost his teenage son; to all who need to be sustained through this broken and shuddering thing called life. We assure them that a great, joyous feast awaits at world’s end. But meanwhile, along with the plate piled high with Christmas eats, we offer them Jesus. We offer them food for life—even abundant life—in the here and now.
Havilah Dharamraj is the Head of the Department of Biblical Studies at the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies, Bangalore, India. She wrote and edited for the ground-breaking South Asia Bible Commentary, and as a Langham Scholar, she received her PhD with support from Langham.