“How can any one satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?”
It is a good question and one which haunts our age of extreme affluence, on the one hand, and extreme poverty, on the other hand, an age of extremes despite the claims to the reduction of universal poverty overall which may indeed be true but tell that to those in radical need! But the Gospel speaks to another kind of poverty which underlies each and every other form of poverty. It is spiritual poverty, the poverty that belongs to our neglect of God and as a consequence to what God constantly provides for us.
In a way, the Gospel presents to us a fairly common biblical theme, the idea of God feeding his people in the wilderness journey. What is that journey? It is about our life to God and with God in the learning about the will and purpose of our life with God. This Gospel story explicitly recalls the provisions which God makes for his people in the wilderness of Sinai. Tough lessons actually. There is a certain reluctance among the children of the Hebrews to accept the discipline, the learning. The lessons are more intellectual and spiritual, we might say, than simply material.
And therein lies the difficulty. It is the constant temptation to measure the reality of God by way of our immediate material concerns. It is not that they don’t matter; they do. It is just that they are subordinate and depend upon something far more radical. The physical and material world is not nothing but neither is it everything, a point which the teaching of the Law of Moses makes clear as does the Gospel of the Resurrection. It is in the light of those ideas that we best make sense of this Gospel pericope. It recalls Deuteronomy’s claim that “man cannot live by bread alone but by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God.” That does not deny the need for bread – for food – but it conditions that need by placing it squarely within the providence of God revealed in the Word of God as Law. There can be no bread without the Word of God in creation.
The collect for today, The Seventh Sunday after Trinity, from The Book of Common Prayer (Canadian, 1962):
LORD of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Epistle: Romans 6:17-23
The Gospel: St. Mark 8:1-9
Artwork: Jacob de Backer, The Miracle of the Loaves and Fish, 16th century. Oil on canvas, Private collection.
The collect for today, the commemoration of William Wilberforce (1759-1833), English MP, Evangelical, Abolitionist (source):
Let thy continual mercy, O Lord, enkindle in thy Church the never-failing gift of charity, that, following the example of thy servant William Wilberforce, we may have grace to defend the children of the poor, and maintain the cause of those who have no helper; for the sake of him who gave his life for us, thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever.
The Epistle: Galatians 3:23-29
The Gospel: St. Matthew 25:31-40
Artwork: William Wilberforce, St. John’s College, Cambridge. Photograph taken by admin, 18 July 2004.
The collect for a Martyr, in commemoration of Saint Olaf (995-1030), King and Patron Saint of Norway, Martyr, from The Book of Common Prayer (Canadian, 1962):
O GOD, who didst bestow upon thy Saints such marvellous virtue, that they were able to stand fast, and have the victory against the world, the flesh, and the devil: Grant that we, who now commemorate thy Martyr Olaf, may ever rejoice in their fellowship, and also be enabled by thy grace to fight the good fight of faith and lay hold upon eternal life; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Epistle: 1 St Peter 4:12-19
The Gospel: St Matthew 16:24-27
Artwork: Pius Welonski, St. Olaf, 1893. Altar painting, Basilica dei Santi Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso, Rome.
The collect for today, the Feast of Saint Anne, Mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary (source):
O GOD, who didst vouchsafe to bestow grace upon blessed Anne, that she might become the mother of the parent of thy Only-begotten Son: Mercifully grant that we who celebrate her festival may be partakers with her of thy heavenly grace; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Lesson: 1 Samuel 2:1-8
The Gospel: St. Luke 1:26-33
Artwork: Nöel Hallé, St. Anne Revealing to the Virgin the Prophecy of Isaiah, c. 1749. Oil on canvas, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.