Some parts of today’s first reading are difficult to accept if we interpret them literally, such as the pronouncement that the pain of childbirth and the struggle to produce the food needed for survival are the result of having transgressed God’s command. A symbolic interpretation of these statements makes much more sense: the harshness of life is the result of not following the divine guidance. Besides this general understanding of the first reading, two aspects in the text caught my attention:
- Adam blamed Eve for having given him the “forbidden fruit” and Eve blames the snake for having tricked her into eating the fruit. As Adam and Eve stand for the whole of humanity and the human experience, the reading tells us that not taking responsibility but allocating blame to others, when something goes wrong, is very human. When I look at my own life, this is definitely true. A humorous example came to my mind. Some days ago, I was getting a soup at the campus cafeteria and spilled some of it. When asked by a colleague what happened, I defended myself saying, “someone pushed me,” which was not the case. I was simply careless and did not want to admit it. This is a trivial example, but all of us know serious incidents when deflecting blame triggered arguments among us, caused social problems, and was responsible even for political disagreements. The reading encourages us to take responsibility for our actions, to admit if we are at fault, to apologize, and to mend what is broken.
- The reading also describes the difficulty of making a living: “Cursed be the ground because of you! Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, as you eat of the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat.” In other words, because of our shortcomings and sinfulness, life is not easy and we struggle to make ends meet. The hard labor to produce nourishment is contrasted with the ease through which Christ in today’s Gospel satisfies a large crowd with just a few loaves of bread. And he takes the bread from someone within the crowd, who is willing to share it! In other words, the Gospel encourages us to share the little we have. And, when we share our resources there will be more than enough for everyone: “They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets.”
The readings of today motivate us (1) to take responsibility for our action, which is the starting point for mending the consequences of our negative action, and (2) to share our resources so that all of us will have more than enough. The readings lay out some principles for a society governed by honesty, collaboration, and mutual support. These principles provide the framework for attempts aiming to solve many of the problems faced by our society and the global community: poverty, inequality, ill health, to mention just a few. This now ties back into what I mentioned in the beginning: the harshness of life is the result of not following God’s command but life becomes easy, satisfying, and fulfilling for all of us when we follow Christ’s example.