Rich are not always saviours of the poor

Published May 1, 2002

From left, a bakery worker, Archbishop Michael Peers and the late Bishop Sleiman Hajjar visiting bakery mission.

AS CHRISTIANS we are accustomed to take bread seriously.

The word (“lehem” in Hebrew, “artos” in Greek) occurs over 400 times in scripture, and bread itself is at the heart of the most characteristic action of Christians. We have gathered for over one hundred thousand successive Sundays at the Lord’s Table to follow Jesus’ command to “do this” with bread and wine.

I want to offer two recent reflections on bread. Earlier this year I was invited to visit a church of the Eastern rite in Toronto. I met with clergy associated with the parish: some in the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox, some Eastern rite Catholics.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Bishop Sleiman Hajjar of the Greek Melkite Catholic Church in Canada, a member of the ecumenical commission of the Catholic bishops in Canada. His sudden, tragic death is noted elsewhere in the Journal.

The sanctuary of the church is tiny and filled with icons in the splendid Eastern tradition. You enter it through a large room, which is a social centre that, among other things, provides lunch for people who need it. We all ate there at noon – a simple sandwich lunch.

The bread was remarkable. It is baked on the premises under the guidance of a baker from France, and is of a very high quality.

The church is in an older neighbourhood that is undergoing great transition. Some places obviously house people living in real poverty. Others have been” gentrified”, or are in the process of that sort of change.

The church runs yet another project for the newer arrivals – a bakery store where they sell their bread to people looking for a quality product. Yet the rich and the poor are eating the same magnificent bread. My other reflection arises from the famous challenge of Isaiah (55.2), “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread?”

These words come in the context of God’s invitation to rich and poor to share the bounty that God sets before all alike.

In the panicky days of last September, when people were anxious about the very heart of our social values, leaders of North American countries gave us the advice they felt absolutely crucial for our survival, “Buy, and spend money.”

At one point I was exhorted to “buy a car, buy a house.” But I own a car, and I have spent years acquiring a house! Why would I spend money for something I already have? Has the acquisition of things we do not need become the bedrock of our whole social system?

If that kind of acquisition is in fact the only salvation of our society, we are in serious trouble.

For one thing, the only people eligible to be our saviours are the rich, the only ones with the spare cash to spend on what is not bread. The poor of the world (and even the not-so-poor) have often observed that the rich are not always to be relied on as saviours: sometimes, but far from always.

We use the word “saviour” as one description of Jesus. His descriptions of the society God wills to be built (“kingdom of God” in the older translations) sounds more like the gracious vision of Isaiah than does the recent advice of presidents.

I pray, as we continue to gather from here to eternity at the table of God to feast with Christ, that our goal in prayer and action is to build a society with the true bread as its heart.

Archbishop Michael Peers is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.


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