Breaking Bread with the Word of God
by Jeff Young
Jesus cooked. He cooked breakfast, to be precise. You can find the account in John 21:1-14. This was after he rose from the dead, after he had already appeared to the disciples, after he had already breathed on them and made them sharers of the Holy Spirit and gave them the authority to forgive sins.
John doesn’t tell us why in his Gospel, but after all these amazing miraculous happenings (Jesus rising from the dead and appearing to his followers multiple times), the disciples (well, seven of them at least) have nothing better to do than to go fishing. They fish all night and catch nothing. Just as the sun rises, Jesus calls to them from the beach, asking whether they have caught anything.
When they reply, “No,” he tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. And voilà, a miraculous catch of fish! Recognizing that it was Jesus on the beach, the disciples rush to the shore. And there they find Jesus, cooking fish and heating bread over a charcoal fire. He invites them to bring some of the fish they just caught. And John tells us that Jesus served them breakfast.
What a fascinating story! This is Jesus, who was crucified, died, and who rose from the dead. This is Jesus, who spent three years as a daily companion to the disciples. This is Jesus, who was known for sharing atable with sinners —so much so, in fact, that he was labeled by some as a drunkard and a glutton. This is Jesus, who the night before he died celebrated one final meal with his disciples, establishing the “new and eternal covenant” (from the liturgy’s Eucharistic Prayers). This is Jesus, who rose from the dead and came to the disciples again as a servant —as a cook and a maker of breakfast!
This story says so much to me. Yes, there are layers of theological meaning in John’s Gospel, and all those layers are important. But this story touches my heart and moves me to respond.
This is the story when, after breakfast, Jesus will ask three times if Peter loves him, and he will commission Peter to feed his sheep. But at this point, before that conversation, Jesus comes to his disciples and shows his concern for the most simple and basic aspects of their lives. He shows that he cares. He cares that they have caught nothing all night. He cares that they are hungry. He tends to their needs. He loves them and comes to feed them.
It’s a lot like what my wife and I do in our family. We notice. We care. We tend to our children. And we feed them.
There’s a lot of cooking, feeding, and eating in the Bible —in both the Old and New Testaments. That’s because cooking, feeding, and eating are at the heart of what it means to be human. We need to eat to live. One of the most beautiful signs of God’s love for us is the Eucharist. Jesus becomes our food. We consume him so that he might consume us. He makes us one with himself. And we are all one in him, his brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of our Father.
This month and next we find ourselves in the Easter season. Incidentally, one of the aspects of our faith that I most relish is the fact that we celebrate seasons every year. Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time. We get a “do over” every year, a chance to go deeper. There is something so human about theseasons, something both tangible and deep. But, as with most important things in life, it can be challenging at times to hold in focus the deeper meaning. We find ourselves frequently distracted by the cares and concerns of daily life: work, school, extracurricular activities, financial pressures, family expectations, emergencies, accidents, and the hiccups of life. We need help, aid, and tools to stay the course and to stay focused.
As we enter into the 50 days of the Easter season, I would like to share with you some of the tools that we use in our family to stay focused on the Risen Jesus as we eagerly await the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Spiritual reading at the dinner table
Advent has its wreath, and Easter has the paschal candle. Of course, the paschal candle remains at our church throughout the Easter season. But we are reminded at the Easter Vigil that Jesus is the light. One of the ways that we keep this focus during the Easter season is to light a white candle at our family meals and our family prayer times. This small gesture helps to make real in our lives the power and presence of Jesus.
He tends to their needs. He loves them.
The story that I shared earlier is one example of how we can “break open” the Word of God when we gather to break bread. Many monasteries, religious communities, and seminaries have the practice of spiritual reading during mealtimes. While the larger community will eat the meal in silence, one member is assigned the task of reading out loud from the Bible, the Church fathers, or the writings of the saints.
We do something similar at our meals. Not every day, but maybe a couple of times each week. During Easter, we read stories about the Resurrection and post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus and then talk about it, encouraging one another to use our imaginations to really try to “experience” what it is we are reading about. This can be fun, insightful, and powerful!
And finally, we sometimes try to tie in what we are eating to what we are reading about. For example, in the account from John 21, Jesus is cooking fish. So why not make a fish dish for dinner? It’s something to make tangible what you are reading. Get creative based on the stories you choose to read!
The recipe below calls for tilapia, which is most likely the same fish that Jesus cooked on the shore that day. It was and remains a fish common to the Sea of Galilee. If tilapia isn’t available, you can always use another firm white fish. The panko bread crumbs give the fish an excellent crunch, almost as if it were fried. Happy Easter!
- 4 tilapia fillets
- 2 cups panko bread crumbs
- 4 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional)
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 1 egg .olive oil or butter
- lemon wedges, as garnish
- creamy tahini sauce, as garnish (optional; recipe at CatholicFoodie.com)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Coat baking pan with olive oil or butter.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the panko bread crumbs, salt, cayenne, and Parmesan cheese. Mix together well.
- In a shallow bowl whisk together the egg and milk.
- redge each fillet —one at a time —in the egg and milk mixture, then transfer to a clean work surface like a large plate, and coat both sides with the bread crumbs mixture.
- Place in the baking pan. Repeat this process for each fillet.
- Lace the baking pan in the oven and bake until the fish flakes easily with the fork, about 14 to 15 minutes.
- Serve on plates with fresh lemon wedges. You can also drizzle creamy tahini sauce over the fillets.