“How can anyone satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?” (Mark 8.4)
The readings for today are once again concerned with life: the Collect draws its language from that of a farmer, the vine dresser. “Graft, increase, nourish” recall to us the words of Jesus when he said “I am the vine, Ye are the branches, My Father is the vine dresser: every good tree he purges that it may bring forth more fruit, but every evil tree he cuts down and casts into the fire.” (John 15.1-2, 5-6)
The Epistle takes up this theme. The issue is one of life and death. “What fruit had you in those things where of you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” It concludes: “For the wages of sin is death: but the free gift of God is eternal life.” The Gospel is concerned with where this abundant, free life is to be found. The centre of this story is the question of Jesus’ disciples: “How can anyone satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?”
Now they think this is only a problem because of the place in which they happen to find themselves. If they were not in this wilderness but in the city, or near farmer’s fields, the problem might be solved. But Jesus knows that the problem is the same no matter where on earth you find yourself. For the Prophet Isaiah asked “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not?” (Isaiah 55.2) Jesus commanded, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you.” (John 6.27) There is literally nothing in this world to eat and drink which will give man life. Everything he eats is food only for a moment; then again he is hungry. The world is never enough. It never satisfies. “The poor ye have with you always.” (Matthew 26.11)
For the true life or joy of man consists not in abundance of worldly things, for the possession and having of them maketh no man blessed or happy; neither shall the lack of them be the cause of his final misery; but the very life of man consisteth in God and in his promises unto the which whoso cleaveth and sticketh shall live the life everlasting. (St. Augustine)
This is why the doctrine of the modern world is so destructive and disheartening. For if our Lord commands “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,” (Matthew 6.33), the present teaching is rather: feed men’s bodies first and then care for their souls. This new doctrine takes the promises out of heaven and brings them down to earth; seek first the kingdom of Mammon and his abundance and only then shall the spiritual multiply, then peace, happiness, joy will arrive.
Now the problem with this modern doctrine is not just that it is wrong if you look at things as the Gospel commands, but also that it turns out to be false on its own terms. First, abundance of goods does not bring peace and happiness, as the experience of the United States or contemporary Europe will show. Second, the abundance of worldly things is not possible for all men. Is there any prospect that the problem of poverty in New York will be solved, that the countries of Africa and South America will achieve wealth? that the poverty in our own country will be finally overcome? When Jesus said “The poor ye have with you always” men might fail to believe him because no one had ever tried to feed them. Now we have endeavoured nothing else except prosperity for 100 years and we know by experience that what he said is true. Indeed, the prospect now is that we shall all get poorer, since we have exhausted the wealth of nature. If then we seek the kingdom of this world, Mammon’s kingdom first, we shall never get to the Kingdom of Heaven, for the work of this world is never done, the demands of Mammon are endless. The whole world is a wilder-ness. It can never satisfy. The gospel must always be preached to men with empty stomachs, men who know the nothingness of the world and have turned from it. This then must be the true sense of the question, How can anyone satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?”
There is only one bread that can feed: the ‘bread of eternal life,” and one cup that can satisfy: “the cup of everlasting salvation.” And Jesus said unto them “I am the bread of life, he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth in me shall never thirst.” (John 6.35)
And so now the gospel is clear: the feeding is only for those who seek Jesus, God and His kingdom first. As St. Mark’s gospel reports, the multitude had been listening to Jesus for three days and were left with nothing to eat. Only the hungry can be fed. This bread is only to be found in the wilderness. Those who love the world and its pleasures will never find it. The bread is Christ himself. His actions in the wilderness are the same as at his Last Supper.
“He took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it.” And this food satisfied: “So they ate and were filled.” Indeed, it turns out to be more than enough: “and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets.”
We note, finally, that the food is distributed by his disciples. This is the same food which is distributed to us by his Church. For our situation is the same: “He commanded them to set it before them.” We, like the multitude, cannot live except we eat this food and drink this cup. Unless he be our vine and we his branches, we wither and die. He alone satisfies. The bread which he gives for the life of the world is his flesh. Come and live, Come and eat. Come, eat that which is good and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Come, receive the priceless treasure free. Come, for unless ye live in him and he in you, you have no life in you. Come, for the body broken and the blood out poured is the bread of eternal life and the cup of everlasting salvation.
Let us therefore render the thanks and praise which is due unto the giver of this perfect gift: all might, majesty, dominion, praise and power now and forever. Amen.
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
Launceston on Tasmania,