Personally, I think it’s no exaggeration to say that the BEST bread is found in this little town: Peta bread, the traditional Tabun bread, and the thin crispy Shrak bread. We Palestinians love to start our day with bread for breakfast. We also enjoy having it with our appetisers and main courses! Bread and thyme, bread and rice, bread and bread! The next thing you’ll hear is that we’ve started having it for our puddings and desserts. It is THAT delicious, and If you have any doubts, do come, taste and see for yourself!
It is fascinating to me to watch my 86-year-old grandmother diligently making and baking her wholemeal bread. Beneath the blue or grey skies, she wakes up before dawn, kneads the dough, lets it rest for a while and bakes it. My part is simply to eat it!
And yet I think too of how we should be working for the bread and food that lasts, as Jesus boldly encourages us in John 6:27: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.”
Whilst many Bethlehem residents struggle to earn their daily bread amid the changing circumstances of a highly volatile land, the need for the true spiritual bread continues. If we, God’s farmers and faithful stewards, stop sowing seeds, we will never reap a plentiful harvest. Furthermore, if we waste time caring for trivial things, will we not fail to water and look after what God has promised to make grow?
The fields of Boaz and Ruth
Thousands of years ago, two courageous women, Naomi and Ruth, ventured all the way from Moab (in modern-day Jordan) to the House of Bread. They came to fields not so far from where I live. In the very heart of Bethlehem, they found a plentiful harvest of wheat and barley and satisfaction after days of hunger. But not only this: they were lavished with comfort beyond sorrow, joy following bereavement, celebration after bitter death and emptiness.
The land that has become known as the fields of Boaz and Ruth continues to be a beautiful testimony to God’s faithfulness through the centuries. It is He who provides bread after famine and who rains down manna in the wilderness.
Yet the bitterness of the wilderness is not something we can, or should, escape. Jesus reminds us of the process that is necessary before we can enjoy our bread: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels–a plentiful harvest of new lives.” Just like a kernel of wheat, our Master died to bring forth much fruit in this land and beyond. If some of us are suffering or going through the wilderness, let us think of how much fruit God will cause our suffering to yield- for His Kingdom, the Kingdom of the Living Bread!
It is indeed worrying to me that the percentage of the oldest Christian community in the world – in this land – has drastically shrunk. Many have left the House of Bread striving for better opportunities in the West and perhaps, misguidedly, even for better bread! I wonder if God would still challenge us with the words the Prophet Isaiah uttered to the Israelites of the Old Testament: “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare”(Isaiah 55:2). However, God has kept a faithful remnant in this place, a remnant that desires to love and serve Him and that works for the everlasting bread.
Let us not forget that Bethlehem is Jesus’ hometown, home of the Living Bread and hence the titlethe House of Bread. May we all find nourishment and satisfaction through our relationship with the Lord, the one and only Living Bread.
At the beginning of this year, may we remember that the harvest is still plentiful (in Bethlehem and elsewhere) but the workers are only a few. Will you pray that the Lord will send more workers to His field? Will you pray that all His children might be open to be used by the Greatest Kinsman and Redeemer, not Boaz but Jesus Christ?
My prayer is that the Christian Community in Bethlehem will glorify the Lord in all that we do. That we will choose consciously to set our hearts to stay in this place. And that we believe that the Lord is still able to multiply the few loaves we wholeheartedly offer to Him here and now!
Blessings and peace