In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, "I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar." Then His disciples answered Him, "How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?" He asked them, "How many loaves do you have?" And they said, "Seven." So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. They also had a few small fish; and having blessed them, He said to set them also before them. So they ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments. Now those who had eaten were about four thousand. And He sent them away, immediately got into the boat with His disciples, and came to the region of Dalmanutha.
- Mark 8:1-10
Yesterday, we read that Jesus went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden. For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. But Jesus said to her, "Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." And she answered and said to Him, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children's crumbs." Then He said to her, "For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter." And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out and her daughter lying on the bed. Again, departing from the region of Tyre and Sidon, He came through the midst of the region of Decapolis to the Sea of Galilee. Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him. And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."
In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, "I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar." Then His disciples answered Him, "How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?" He asked them, "How many loaves do you have?" And they said, "Seven." So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. They also had a few small fish; and having blessed them, He said to set them also before them. So they ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments. Now those who had eaten were about four thousand. And He sent them away, immediately got into the boat with His disciples, and came to the region of Dalmanutha. Of today's entire passage, my study bible tells us: "Mark here reports a second feeding of a multitude, which now includes many Gentiles in the region of the Decapolis (see yesterday's reading), southeast of the Sea of Galilee. To feed the hungry in the wilderness is a messianic sign, fulfilling the prophecy, 'Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? . . . Can He give bread also?' (Ps. 78:19-20). This miracle has special significance: seldom does Jesus refer back to a miracle He has performed, but to the feeding of the four and five thousand He does (8:19-21 [in tomorrow's lectionary reading])."
Once again, we can take note of the word used in the Greek, when Jesus says, "I have compassion" on the multitude -- just as we did in the reading on the feeding of the five thousand. As we explained in that reading and commentary, the English translation is of a verb made from the modern Greek word for "spleen." It indicates the feeling of movement of the inward parts, feeling something "in the guts" -- in this case, what were considered the "nobler" organs of lungs, kidneys, heart, and liver. We simply cannot escape from the idea of the importance of Incarnation here. Our Lord has come into the world fully human, in His birth as a baby, with parents who care for Him and worry for Him, through all manner of trial and difficulties, relying as we do on our own labors for sustenance (we remember the questions of his fellow townspeople, at hearing Him preach: "Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary . . . ?"). In this word meaning to "have compassion" we find the essence of the Incarnation, a sort of teaching about why Jesus has come to the world fully human, a sense of what it means for us, as human beings, to incorporate God-likeness. In 2 Corinthians, St. Paul writes, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (3:17-18). St. Athanasius, among many other Patristic writers, taught of Christ, "For He was made man that we might be made God" (On the Incarnation, Section 54:3). Christ's Incarnation, being fully human, brings to us a measure of what human beings can be. And so that there is no doubt that none of us are left out of this equation, Mark gives us two feedings in the wilderness: one in Jewish territory and one in Gentile territory. Our very human need for food and sustenance becomes an occasion for an act of God that sanctifies everything about this world, and teaches us about our inseparability from God. In today's reading, and in the earlier feeding of the five thousand, we go beyond the image or type of the feeding of the Israelites in the wilderness, to a deeper fulfillment: everything becomes sanctified in this picture of the Eucharist. We have reached the level of sacrament, where the very elements of this world, in the bread and wine, the things we eat for sustenance, can be sanctified by the Spirit in order to create this deeper union with God -- just as the Spirit made possible God's birth in human form. As we are in Lent, let us think about how traditional practices such as fasting, abstaining from various activities -- with the discipline being for abstinence from sin -- are meant to help us to become as fully the measure of a human being as we can. In the monastic traditions of the Eastern Church, it is often repeated that fasting is for the body, not against it. When we take any form of Sabbath, or time out (I have friends who abstain from the internet once a week, for example!), if we do so truly mindfully, we are seeking a renewal of our whole selves, flesh and blood, spirit and soul -- because our Lord became human so that we might understand who we can be. The freedom of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17, noted above) is the freedom from sin, to become more "like Him." The Kingdom, as we discussed in yesterday's reading, is a seed or seeds planted in us, in this world, in the here and now. We are meant to live our lives with these seeds planted, growing, taking root, giving fruit, and bearing all kinds of branches, even as we are, here and now, in this world. As human beings, we have the capacity to express love and compassion in so many forms. We have the capacity to express our love for God in infinite ways. We can never put a lid on this growth and creativity of the Kingdom. Let us think about the feeding of the four and the five thousand, and remember what the Eucharist is for. Let us remember why God has become human, and given us the Spirit to bring light to every possibility, and every aspect of what we do with our lives in this world. Dispassion, a withdrawal from impulse, is meant as a discipline to turn to Christ, to find His Way, His light, in all ways we can live it.