A person’s dream has always been to have life, eternal life. To achieve this, Gilgamesh, the hero of Mesopotamian literature, had challenged the monster Humbaba in the garden of cedars. Then he went down the abyss of the seas to take possession of the grass which is called “the old becomes young.” He reached it but a snake stole it from him. The destiny of man is sad; he is born to die. Dejected, the psalmist also concluded: “For redeeming one’s life demands too high a price and all is lost forever. Who can remain forever alive and never see the grave” (Ps 49:9-10). Despite of being short as a breath (Ps 144:4), this life is sacred and inviolable.
In the Hebrew language the word “to live” is never applied to animals or plants, but only to humans, and is used as a synonym of “to heal,” “to recover health,” “to be happy.” Only one who lives a peaceful existence, free from disease, full of joy, really lives. Tears and pain are signs of death.
Bread maintains, but does not ensure biological life forever; it is destined to be extinguished, and the legendary plant of immortality is a chimera, an illusion. But God has a bread that communicates eternal life, and has given it to the world, because he wants everyone to have life and have it abundantly (Jn 10:10). “While all was in quiet silence and the night was in the middle of its course” (Wis 18:14), he sent his word, “Whatever has come to be, found life in him; life which comes for human beings, was also light” (Jn 1:4).
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Every day I have to feed myself with the word that comes from the mouth of God.”
The Israelites were caught by panic in front of the Canaanites. To instill courage in them, Joshua and Caleb, men of imposing stature, exclaimed: “Do not be afraid, for they will be bread for us!” (Num 14:9). Curious coincidence: the Hebrew root of the word “bread” is composed of the same consonants of the verb “to fight,” as if to indicate that the struggle for food is the stirring cause of wars. Even the disagreements between Israel and the Lord are derived from the scarcity of bread, “In Egypt we sat down to eat all the bread” (Ex 16:3).
Only when bread is shared, it ceases to be a source of competition and strife and becomes a sign of love and brotherhood.
Eating bread with someone is to consider him one’s own intimate, a friend whom one grants trust, an ally from which one does not expect any betrayal (Ps 41:10). The strongest tension, the most poisonous resentments are manifested in silence at table and more embarrassing discussions that break out among the diners.
The banquet is, by its nature, an expression of peace and reconciliation (Gen 31:53-54), this is why God has chosen it as the image of his kingdom. He will lavish a banquet in which “the lowly will eat and be satisfied” (Ps 22:27).
Here’s his dream: one day to contemplate all his children, the olive shoots, around his table (Ps 128:3).
To internalize the message, we repeat: “The poor shall eat and be satisfied, if I will have the courage to share my goods.”
Who holds power is called to perform a service to the brethren, but is also subject to the temptation to abuse one’s own position of prestige and use it to impose oneself, to further one’s own personal or family interests. The author of the Book of Wisdom warns: “For the lowly there may be excuses and pardon, but the great will be severely punished” (Wis 6:5-6).
The domination of others is strictly prohibited in the Christian community (Lk 22:25). Christ does not claim a power conferred by the institution to ask the disciples adherence to his proposal of life. He precedes the flock, feeds it with his word and his bread and attracts it by his example.
In the church, who leads cannot but reproduce the pattern of the Master. Peter, reproved by Jesus several times for his eagerness to stand out, recommended to the priests of his community: “Shepherd the flock which God has entrusted to you, guarding it not out of obligation but willingly for God’s sake; not as one looking for a reward but with a generous heart; do not lord it over those in your care rather be an example to your flock” (1 Pet 5:1-2).
Whoever wrote the following reflection for the scout leader seems to have in mind this recommendation: “Remember, scout leader, if you slow down, they stop; if you give in, they shrink back; if you sit down, they lie down; if you doubt, they despair; if you criticize, they break down; if you walk forward, they will overtake you; if you give your hand, they will give their skin; if you pray, they shall be holy.”
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Only by following the only true shepherd, I shall not want.”
Looking straight at the paralytic who was begging at the temple gate called “Beautiful,” Peter said, “Look at us.” He looked at them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter continued: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Messiah, walk!” (Acts 3:1-10).
The cripple was expecting anything but this. His fortune was to have met the two disciples who, faithful to the provisions of the Master, did not bring anything with them. Had they had money, they would have given alms, then he would have gone away, leaving him in a condition as before. The wonder took place because Peter and John were conscious of being custodians of a divine power, a word that can restore anyone who lies on the ground, unable to manage his own life, and depends on the compassion of others.
It is commendable that, where no one acts, the church performs a substitute work in areas where she is not specifically competent, but refuses to be identified with the humanitarian institutions. She keeps vigilance to avoid being innocently involved in spectacular and lucrative initiatives, so as not to compete with civilian structures that, through the commitment of lay Christians, is instead called to animate. She possesses a divine word and it is on this word that she relies, resisting the temptation to resort to means that people consider more effective. When she uses them, she can also do good, but she limits herself to begging, putting a new patch on an old garment, while her task is to create a completely new man, society, and world.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “The word of God is effective if it is announced to free people by the people.”