The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


Is “Jesus Bread” Gluten Free?

If Jesus is the Bread of Life why is it so hard to take a bite?

by Roy M. Terry IV

Gospel Reading:  John 6:35, 41-51

For Sunday, August 12, 2012:  Year B − Ordinary 19

I have a good friend who just found out he has a gluten allergy. Now when we go to a restaurant he is always asking, “Do you have a gluten free menu?” The real struggle my friend has is that he LOVES bread!

I can remember him telling me on numerous occasions, “I don’t care what the scripture says – I could live on bread alone!” He also mentions frequently that he can tell if a restaurant is any good simply by the bread they bring out before the meal. Sticking to a gluten free diet is driving him crazy!

Compassionate Friend?

Knowing that my friend is struggling, now when I am with him at a restaurant I order from the gluten free menu as well (if they even have one). While I feel good, in a self-righteous way, supporting my friend, to be honest, I don’t like gluten free bread!

The pasta is good and even some of the desserts aren’t bad but the bread? I want the good bread, packed with gluten, fluffy, full, real bread! While we both sit there eating and pretending like nothing has changed, it is not the same and at times even difficult to eat.

We love our bread

The world loves its bread! Bread is the definitive staple of all meals. The Bible is packed with bread stories and is often a metaphor for healing, recovery and God’s presence. The yeast used to make bread is also a symbol of sin, brokenness and hypocrisy. Bread is a relational food, we break bread together, share stories around a good loaf of bread and even receive a little piece of bread as a fore taste of heaven through the Eucharist meal. Heck, even prisoners get bread and water.

Bread is all around us and to avoid eating things with gluten in it is difficult. Occasionally my friend will risk the allergy just to eat the bread he grew up with. He is willing to imbibe even though he knows it will make him sick. But it’s just so darn good!

Difficult to Eat

When Jesus offers himself as the Bread of Life those who are listening find it difficult to eat. Over the next four chapters of John (6-10) the opposition to Jesus grows. The world is not ready to change its diet even if their diet only makes them sick.

Jesus proclaims that he is Israel’s food and all of the needs and longings of God’s people can be found in him. “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The problem is that “Jesus Bread” is difficult to eat.

The Hardest Question

If Jesus is the bread of life, which provides for our ultimate human needs, then why does it leave us so hungry or why is it so difficult to take a bite?

Is “Jesus Bread” gluten free?

Rev. Roy Terry serves as the pastor of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples, FL. In addition to working at the church, Roy enjoys supporting his wife and daughter’s equestrian pursuits, playing in the Holy Moly Band, getting a few tattoos and singing classic rock tunes at the local sports pub. He has been published in Christian Century, Duke Divinity School’s publication Divinity, The Ekklesia Project, and was a contributor in Diana Butler Bass’ work on re-traditioning churches, From Nomads to Pilgrims and Christianity for the Rest of Us.


  1. Bob says:

    There is very good tasting Gluten free bread, check out Sami’s Bakery in Tampa. Over the centuries wheat has been selected to have more and more gluten, and some of us didn’t evolve with it. I’be been Gluten free for more than ten years now, and I do miss some breads. Bring able to take communion with a GF bit of bread this last Sunday, was more of a joy than I had imagined.

  2. Roy says:


    Thanks for sharing – I will have to try it out! My friend is also always looking for good tasting gluten free bread.
    I often find myself in Tampa so I’ll swing by Sami’s Bakery. I believe my experience with Gluten free bread hasn’t been the best – and in no way am I making light of Gluten allergies – just thought the contrast between what is good for us and not good for us resonated through the Gospel text this week.

  3. Matt says:

    This reflection reminds me of my Christian Ethics class at Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC. There, Dr. Dan Bell used the imagery that humanity seeks what it thinks is ‘ice cream,’ which the world offers, but is in fact a dog turd. No matter how much we dress it up its still a dog turd. Yet, Christ is the stuff we want, but it appears too good and the cost too great so we keep going back to feast on the turd when Jesus is saying, “No really, you don’t have to eat that crap… come to me and feast, enjoy, and live!”

    • Roy says:

      Matt: Thanks for the reflection. Dan Bell is a good friend of mine and was my precept for Christian Ethics & Methodism at Duke. Great image – right in line with my reflection on the Lection text for this week. The miracle is Jesus – but we would rather feast on that which only fills the immediate. The world has an insatiable appetite for that which will not sustain: Wealth, possessions, war, government, etc.

  4. Lynne says:

    Thanks Bob! I’ve often thought about posting as “Gluten-Free Preacher”. For those of us who can’t partake of the “One Bread, One Body” it is always interesting to ponder how to chew on the bready gospel passages. Thanks for offering another perspective.

  5. Rebekah says:

    Metaphors, metaphors….the gluten-free bread idea is great (esp. as my partner and 1 daughter are both gluten free) but still… If we think of this as the hardest question, for non-Christians or former Christians, many of them are convinced we Jesus-freaks are actually eating the crap, and insisting it’s delicious and nutritious for everybody, even though a lot of folks are getting very sick on what we offer. “Eat this Bread – or else.” My friends who have walked away from Christianity have found other sources of the bread of life – and they are still kind, forgiving, loving, and principled.

    It’s the metaphor, again – what the heck does it mean to be the Bread of Life? Beautiful metaphor, nasty metaphor – either way, it’s more parable than panacea. The best I can do is suggest it’s more promise. The promise works better when preached in a community that actually eats as Jesus did – sharing their bread with the hungry, all welcome at the table. Otherwise it’s junk food. Christian junk food, to be sure, but still junk.

    • Roy says:

      Rebekah: I believe that’s the beauty of metaphors – especially when challenged to consider whether we are eating crap or eating that which heals and sustains us. I had a very good friend – not a Chrstian – read the post and his comment was “If Jesus is the good stuff then just maybe the church should actually start feasting off that instead of the prosperity, consumerist, exclusive crap that is being hand fed from the pulpits every week! That’s what I kinda get out of this!”. Yes! To feast on the bread of life pushes outside of ourselves and moves us toward giving ourselves for others. (Amen to your reflection!). That’s why Jesus Bread is so hard to eat – it isn’t all about us! Everyone is invited to participate – walls and barriers come down – and through participating we find our lives open to participate in authentic relationship with a world of people all of whom God loves.

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