Jesus' Supper

Image: Cyrus Saurius
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By LEONARDO BOFF*

On this Holy Thursday there is a criminal lack of commensality among humans.

Holy Thursday, the Lord's Supper, reminds us of eating, denied to millions going hungry today in Brazil and the world, as a result of the intrusion of Covid-19. We note, unfortunately, a painful lack of solidarity with the crowd of hungry people, preventing them from eating together (commensality).

One of the merits of the MST consists in having organized itself in all its settlements around the ethics of solidarity among its members and with outsiders. They are exemplary sharing what they have with agro-ecological food and with many lunchboxes distributed to thousands of families on the outskirts of our cities. They allow one of humanity's most ancient dreams to come true: commensality, that is, everyone being able to eat and eat together, sitting around a table and enjoying the coexistence and the fruits of the generous Mother Earth.

Food is more than material things. They are sacraments and symbols of the generosity of Mother Earth that gives us everything, along with human work. It is not about nutrition but about communion with nature and with others with whom we break bread. In the context of the common table, food is appreciated and made the subject of comment. The greatest joy of cooks is to perceive the satisfaction of diners. An important gesture at the table is serving or passing food to the other person. Civilized behavior makes everyone help themselves, ensuring that enough food reaches everyone.

Contemporary culture has so modified the logic of everyday time as a function of work and productivity that it has weakened the symbolic reference of the table. It was reserved for Sundays or special moments of celebration or birthdays when family members get together. But, as a rule, it ceased to be the family's permanent point of convergence.

The family table was replaced by other tables, completely desacralized: a negotiation table, a games table, a discussion and debate table, an exchange table and a table for conciliating interests, among others. Even desacralized, these various tables retain an inerasable reference: they are a meeting place for people, regardless of the interests that lead them to sit down at the table. Being at the table for the exchange, negotiation, concertation and definition of solutions that please the parties involved. Or even leaving the table could mean the failure of the negotiation and the recognition of the conflict of interests.

Despite this difficult dialectic, it is important to reserve time for the table in its full sense of coexistence and the satisfaction of being able to eat together. It is one of the perennial sources of remaking our essence as beings of relationship. How this is denied today to the poor and the hungry!

Let us rescue a little the memory of the commensality present in all cultures and carried out by Jesus at the Last Supper with his apostles.

Let's start with the Judeo-Christian culture because it is more familiar to us. There is a central category there – that of God's kingdom, the first content of Jesus' message – which is represented by a feast to which everyone is invited.

Everyone, regardless of their moral status, sits down at the table and is made diners. The Master tells us: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a king who prepared a feast for his son's wedding. He sent the servants to call the guests and said to them: Go to the main roads and invite everyone you find to the feast. The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good, and the hall was filled with guests” (Mt 22,2-3;9-10).

Another memory comes to us from the East. In it, eating together, in solidarity with each other, represents the supreme human achievement, called heaven. The opposite, the desire to eat, but selfishly, each one for himself, realizes the supreme human frustration, called hell. Legend has it: “A disciple asked the Seer:

-Master, what is the difference between heaven, the commensality between all, and its opposite? The Seer replied: - It is very small but with serious consequences. I saw diners sitting at a table where there was a very large pile of rice. Everyone was starving, almost starving. Everyone tried but couldn't get close to the rice. With their long sticks of more than a meter in length, they tried to take the rice to their own mouths, individually. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn't because the toothpicks were too long. And so hungry and lonely they remained languishing because of an insatiable and endless hunger. This was hell, the negation of all commensality.

- I saw another wonderful scene, said the Seer. People sitting at a table around a pile of steaming rice. Everyone was starving. But wonderful thing! Each one picked up the rice and took it to the other's mouth. They served each other with immense cordiality. Together and solidary. Everyone fed each other. They felt like brothers and sisters at the great table of Tao. And that was heaven, the full commensality of the sons and daughters of the Earth.”

This parable needs no comment. Regrettably today, in times of Covid-19, a large part of humanity is hungry and desperate because there are very few people who extend the toothpicks so that they can satisfy each other with the abundant food on the Earth's table. The rich appropriate them privately and eat alone without looking at who is excluded. There is a criminal lack of commensality among humans. That's why we are so lacking in humanity. But social isolation creates the opportunity for us to review our individualistic practices and discover fraternity without borders and commensality: everyone can eat and eat together.

*Leonardo Boff He is a theologian and philosopher. Author, among other books, of Eat and drink together and live in peace (Voices).

 

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