By Sarah Cornwell
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 8:1-10
1 In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, 2”I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. 3If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way — and some of them have come from a great distance.” 4His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” 5He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. 7They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. 8They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.
In today’s gospel, we read about the feeding of the 4,000. On the surface, this account appears to be pretty similar to the later feeding of the 5,000. Jesus miraculously feeds an enormous crowd with only a few provisions, and even has leftovers to spare. There are some key differences between these two stories, however, which are surprising and worth pondering. First, rather obviously, Jesus fed more people when he fed the 5,000. He also fed them with less food. With the 4,000, Jesus had seven loaves and a few fishes. With the 5,000, Jesus had only five loaves and two fishes. In other words, in today’s reading, Jesus fed fewer people with more food. The logical conclusion would be that there would be more leftovers from this meal than from the feeding of the 5,000. However, the opposite is the case. In today’s reading where Jesus fed fewer people with more food, there are fewer leftovers than when he fed the larger crowd with fewer provisions.
How can we understand this? St. Jerome has some insight in Homily 78 of his Tractate on the Gospel of Mark:
Four thousand men — fewer certainly in number, but greater in faith. The one who is greater in faith eats more, and because he does, there is less left over! I wish that we, too, might eat more of the hardy bread of holy writ, so that there would be less left over for us to learn.
Amen, St. Jerome. We have a feast before us in the holy writ of today’s daily office: Psalms 61 and 62 (with that beautiful line “For God alone my soul in silence waits”), as well as portions of 68; a passage from Isaiah (“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace”); and finally, a portion of St. Paul’s challenging and loving letter to the Galatians. Don’t be shy, eat up! The host would love fewer leftovers.
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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The Diocese of Aluakluak (Episcopal Church of South Sudan)
All Saints’ Episcopal Church, San Deigo, Calif.