“Bread Givers,” a novel written by Anzia Yezierska in 1925, tells the story of a young Jewish girl growing up in poverty and harsh family relationships. Her father demands that all the children work to support the family while he studies the Torah. In the end, she breaks away from home, earns a college degree and becomes a teacher. Several passages from the novel relate to our Scriptures for this Sunday.
Ezekiel the prophet speaks about the obligation to confront wickedness and evil. We are not to turn away and pretend that the dignity of a human person is not threatened when in fact it is. Indeed we are our brother/sister’s keeper.
Sara Smolisky, the protagonist in “Bread Givers,” though only 17, reflects: “My gall burst in me! For 17 years I stood his preaching and his bullying. But now all the hammering hell that I had to listen to since I was born cracked my brain. His heartlessness to Mother, his pitiless driving away Bessie’s chance to love, bargaining away Fanai to a gambler and Mashah to a diamond-faker …” (135). Some might consider this disrespectful behavior to a parent. Others, like Ezekiel the prophet, would consider this both courage and an act of responsibility as Sara confronts the evils within her family.
Each of us must examine our own lives to see if bullying and pitilessness dwell there. So easily we see the evil around us; so easily we deny it within ourself.
St. Paul, in our second reading, speaks about love and those behaviors that are anti-love: adultery, killing, stealing, coveting. Again the theme from Ezekiel is clear: wickedness and evil must be confronted and they are conquered by love. Those who love God and their neighbor fulfill the whole law.
Sara Smolisky comments: “My one need of needs, stronger than my life, was my love to be loved” (198). From the Scriptures we learn that what makes love possible between human beings is the fact that we have first been loved by God. This self-communication of God’s love for us empowers us to share that grace with others. Although Sara’s father prayed and pondered the Torah, his life did not show the respect and concern contained in God’s word. The prejudice and traditions of the past blinded him to the dignity of women and their rightful place in society.
Jesus’ message deals with sin and the need to confront that reality. More, forgiveness and mercy are available to all who repent and turn to the Lord asking for healing. It’s all about reconciliation, regaining the harmony that is God’s will; it’s all about restoring the unity lost because of wickedness and evil.
At the end of “Bread Givers,” reconciliation of sorts takes place. Sara reflects: “Deeper than love, deeper than pity, is that oneness of the flesh that’s in him (my father) and in me” (286). God’s will is that of union and unity: union with God and unity among us. Deeply embedded in our very DNA, we are made for that oneness. And when love and pity are present, then the evil, wickedness and sin of the world can be overcome.
Questions for reflection
1. In what sense are you a “watchperson,” called to confront evil?
2. Why is reconciliation so difficult for us?
3. What divisions are you asked to heal?
Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.