“Bread for all and roses too”

19th week Ordinary Time: year b. 8.8.2021

Stef Rozitis

“Bread for all and roses too” the quote from suffragist Helen Todd, which has become popular in the unions is on my mind as I reflect on today’s readings.

The religious people in the gospel are under the misconception that familiar, ordinary things, cannot be divine. They know Jesus, he’s ordinary he’s one of them and they are reluctant to see more in him. He’s remarkable in not being limited by that.

In my life, I have had teachers who have said “Look, there is something inside you, you can be more than this.” or they say “what you are telling me is true,” and help me articulate or develop it. Jesus did not have that support, he was lost among people who wanted to push him down, to prevent him from overtaking them, to put him back in his place. Maybe this was even well intentioned, when people do this to their children they call it “managing their expectations”. We need to stop trying to “manage the expectations” of our young, we need to stop telling them they can’t have roses and their bread must be stale and made from ashes.

Every child we meet might be a powerful prophet- imagine if Greta Thunberg had been taught to know her place and dial down her voice?

I’m not subscribing to the narrative that she will save us. We’re overburdening the young when we tell them they are our leaders, they are our saviours, they are our only hope. This is a twisted role reversal, it’s an abuse. We should hear the children and teens who are asking for a cleaner, fairer world and then WE need to oppose fracking, and refuse to vote for alleged rapists, and stop buying so much plastic!! WE need to do something for our beautiful earth, for our living bread, for the body of Christ- the body we are born from and feed on.

The women’s suffrage activists, the union women said that we should have more than bread. We should have roses too. They meant that a human life cannot be reduced to “basics” (the Indue card is all wrong). Jesus said something similar “You cannot live on bread alone”. He was talking about the beauty of the Word, but roses are a Word of beauty too. They are scented like heaven, the petals are so soft and velvety that when I was little I couldn’t stop rubbing them on my face until the poor roses were bedraggled. Roses are so sensuous, and strangely hardy even in an Australian summer. For butterflies and bees they are like bread- they are the necessary food to sustain life and keep their species going. If we love our non-human cousins we will grow them flowers.

Flowers are surprisingly important, despite often being seen as a symbol of the unproductive and the vain.

In the first reading, God shows us how to deal with someone who is too depressed to be “productive”. Fed twice, Elijah’s energy and willingness to live and do God’s work comes back. I love that the feeding happens twice…we often try to rush people into being “better” the minute we do anything for them. God realises that healing is like gardening, it takes time, you have to commit to it. Fed twice, Elijah learns that God will not abandon him. Fed more than just the once Elijah realises he is cared for and the care will not only be in proportion to his usefulness. We are so quick to establish “mutual obligations” or conditions when we help someone, to turn it into a debt not a gift.

When I say “We” I am aware that there are people in this community and other parts of my life who are the opposite, who are only ever generous but we need to spread wider that sort of energy to society not just in individual interactions. As a society we give up on people too easily, or use them. We encourage them to give up on themselves.

We are told not to make the Holy Spirit sad in the second reading, as a child I read that in an almost gaslighting way- as if I was never allowed to feel angry or stand up for myself or others. I don’t think it means that- for example I am not going to smile and feel cosy that billionaires are wasting precious resources of the planet simply to make expensive joyrides out beyond the atmosphere. They could put that energy to better use to solve the world’s problems- or just stop stealing the wages of the poor and pay their taxes.

Nevertheless we are responsible to God for the cultures we build, and for our interactions; the ways of treating people that we normalise and for seeking to be respectful even when we disagree. A small point that I like at the end is where Christ as a sacrifice is said to be a “fragrant aroma”. Roses again!

I’ll be honest I don’t know what “eternal life” means. This life here and now is mystery enough and I can leave the rest to God. But Jesus says he comes to us as bread. He comes to feed us. His flesh is here for the life of the world. We also are called to become bread- to be the presence that feeds, strengthens and brings life. I’ve put pictures of bread in the prayer-sheet today which are not just basics for grudgingly keeping an exploitable body going. I have deliberately chosen to picture bread of luxury and enjoyment.

The life we are called to (bread AND roses) is rich in meaning, connection, and every good thing. Let us reflect on bread which is better than manna, a sacrifice which is fragrant, rain on rose petals, crusts falling open to reveal the softness of bread.

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