Greetings, SBT Readers!
Last week brought a shift in news coverage away from natural disasters, Covid-19 and gun violence, towards the stars. Suddenly, the focus was on in billionaires in space, with Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson each competing to go further, soar higher, carry more passengers, and make human life inter-planetary. While shooting for the stars is a noble aspiration, I have some concerns about this billionaire space-race. Of course, there is the obvious point that the vast wealth consumed by this race could have somehow helped alleviate suffering on this planet-- providing vaccines, creating access to water, reducing carbon emissions, assisting refugees, solving problems with homelessness...
But then there is another consideration. Just as colonization here on Earth resulted in the destruction of other cultures, so the "colonization" of space will inevitably launch human problems beyond the edge of outer space into orbiting human colonies. If the best in human nature is compassion, the worst is egotism.
"Boys will be boys" with their toys -- apologies for the sexism here-- and "boys" always seek to be bigger, better, faster, richer, more famous... To be "top of the game," someone else has to be at the bottom; to be the "winner," someone else has to be the loser; to "bask in glory," someone else has to be overshadowed. These were precisely the beliefs that the conquistadors carried with them into the New World, turning upside down core values of cooperation, community-centeredness and mutual respect, replacing them with domination, exploitation and genocide.
What will we carry into outer space? If Earth becomes uninhabitable, who will qualify as an inter-planetary migrant? More importantly, who will be left behind?
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to Jesus,
“Here is a boy with five barley loaves and two fish, but what good are these for so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”
Now, there was a great deal of grass in that place,
so the men sat down, about five thousand of them.
Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were seated,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted.
When they had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples,
“Gather the left overs, so that nothing will be wasted.”
So they collected them, filling twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.
Twelve baskets of left overs. Perhaps this image is more significant than the fact that 5,000 men (not to mention the women and children) were able to eat until satiated -- in other words, they couldn't eat another crumb. For most of us, being "stuffed to capacity" is an occasional experience, especially when there is an abundance of culinary delights. I think of my Aunt Doris' wonderful cooking and how we -- the whole family-- would roll away from the table (or, in the case of the children, under the table) after each Sunday dinner or tea. Or Christmas at my parents' house when each dish seemed more delightful than its predecessor. Or, more recently (pre-pandemic) the New Year's Eve gala at the Excelsior, Malta, when the delectable desserts were so irresistible that if my stomach could speak, it would have cried out, "No more!"
Twelve baskets of left overs-- enough for the 12 tribes of Israel, enough for the whole world! The fragments were poor people's food -- barley loaves, daily bread, the staff of life... And the people received what they needed, when they needed it, just as Elisha was able to feed 100 people with 20 barley loaves (2 Kgs 4:42-44). In both miracle stories, the starting point is having limited resources to share -- barley loaves and two fish. Neither Elisha nor Jesus snapped their fingers to make food pour down from heaven; rather, they worked with the little they had and that produced the surplus. This principle of sharing existing resources was foundational to the early Christian community. In Acts 2:44-45, we learn that "all who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's need." For the most part, there was no grasping, grabbing or hoarding and when members of the community deceitfully withheld their resources, there were dire consequences (cf. the story of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:1-11).
Though the same attitudes towards private property no longer govern Christian life except in vowed religious communities, there is, however, the understanding that one should give according to one's means. The ideal might be "the widow's mite," that is, to give out of one's lack (Lk 21:1-4), but most of us give what we can afford. Either way, miracles happen when we share, whether it be food, wisdom, money, time or talent. The more we give, the more God has to work with!