TRINITY VII – Omnes gentes
Introit: (Ps. 47) O clap your hands together, all ye people: O sing unto God with the voice of melody. Ps. For the Lord is high, and to be feared: he is the great King upon all the earth.
Collect: 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.
OT Lesson: Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: As yet they shall use this speech in the land of Judah and in the cities thereof, when I shall bring again their captivity: The Lord bless thee, O habitation of justice, and mountain of holiness. And there shall dwell in Judah itself, and in all the cities thereof together, husbandmen, and they that go forth with flocks. For I will satiate the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish. (Jeremiah 31.23-25)
Gradual: (Ps. 34) Come, ye children, and hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord. V. They had an eye unto him and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed.
Epistle: Brethren: I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6.17-23)
Alleluia. Thou, O God, art praised in Sion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed in Jerusalem. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: In those days: The multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples unto him, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat: and if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far. And his disciples answered him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness? And he asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven. And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people. And they had a few small fishes: and he blessed, and commanded to set them also before them. So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets. And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and he sent them away. (St Mark 8.1-9)
“For I will satiate the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”
Today’s Gospel reading could very easily be taken as simply a different version of the feeding of the five thousand, as found in chapter 6, but it is not. That story took place in Galilee, but the setting for this episode is across the Sea of Galilee in the Decapolis (7.31), that is, in the heart of Gentile territory. The implication, then, is that the message of Christ, His care and His blessing, are for all people—Gentiles included, and by the use of a different word for “basket” (in this instance more like a hamper), the superabundance is even greater.
In his concise presentation of the Gospel, St Mark has arranged the events in a significant way, which looks beyond simple chronology, in order to expound specific theological principles. Thus in chapters 7 and 8, he presents a series of stories that reveal Christ’s concern for the Gentile “outsiders.” These stories are linked even more strongly through the use of “bread” imagery. The first such instance (often obscured by modern translations) comes at the beginning of chapter 7. The second, and more significant for our understanding of today’s reading, comes in verses 24-30, in Our Lord’s encounter with the Syro-phoenician woman. This Gentile woman approaches Jesus and begs Him to do something He has seemed eager to do for countless others—to cast a demon out of her daughter. But He responds in a very un-Christ-like manner: “First let the children [read: Jews] eat their fill; for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs [read: Gentiles]!” This appears to reflect the prevalent attitude of the Jews of His day: that the blessings of the Kingdom are primarily (if not solely) for the children of Israel. This was a harsh response, but the mother seems undeterred, cleverly retorting that even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs. For her firm expression of faith, Jesus does as the woman asks and her daughter is healed. But this encounter leaves the reader wondering whether this is indeed how Jesus feels—that those outside the nation of Israel will have to be satisfied with only the table scraps of the Kingdom. Does He really see them as dogs, worthy of nothing more than leftovers? Or does He want to give them something more? Today’s reading gives us our answer.
You will note how Mark says that the people who flocked to Jesus came from “a great distance” (v. 3). And one senses here that he is speaking in terms more spiritual than geographical (cf. Ephesians 2.11-22). These people are “Gentiles” and “outsiders.” In the eyes of many of their Jewish neighbours, they are “dogs.” And yet, Jesus now makes the blessings of the Kingdom available to them, just as He had done earlier for the Jewish multitudes. Neither is He satisfied to give them merely a few table scraps. Instead, He warmly invites them to share in all the abundance of His Kingdom, providing not only enough, but far more than enough—so much that there are seven hampers full of leftovers. Here Mark shows that, contrary to what the disciples, the Pharisees, and even his readers might think, no one is outside the reaches of God’s grace. In Christ, the blessings and abundant life of the Kingdom are available to all. Through Him, those who are far off have been brought near (Eph 2), united into one body just as the many grains of wheat are gathered into one loaf of bread.
But notice also that Jesus did not create food out of nothing (although He might have done). He took what was offered to Him, blessed and multiplied it, and gave it back to His disciples to distribute. Similarly, God gives us all that we need, indeed all that we possess, and asks that we offer it back to Him. He then takes, blesses, multiplies and uses our offerings, our stewardship, our service, to be a blessing to others. And finally He asks His disciples to gather up the leftover fragments, and they have more left over than they began with! In this miraculous meal, we see also a foreshadowing of another banquet where Our Lord gives His servants bread which He has blessed and multiplied, to sustain us lest we faint along the way. Christ has had compassion on us, and supplies our soul’s need, feeding us with a sustenance the likes of which no one else could ever provide. He gives us His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins, to our eternal blessing, refreshment, and salvation.
The entire world has a need. We are all sinners, and the just result of that sin is death. But Jesus has compassion upon our need. And whether we realize it or not, we are all hungry for what He alone can give. If, as this feeding miracle demonstrates, He shows compassion for the people’s physical hunger, we can be assured that He is genuinely concerned about our greater and more urgent need. He assumed our human nature and bore the burden of the Law for us, died on the cross for our salvation, and rose from the dead for our justification. Christ had compassion on us. That is what the Gospel is about. He has compassion and He has the means to supply what we truly need—forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Served to save, and saved to serve: that is the theme of today’s readings. We all serve and obey someone. St Paul writes, just before today’s Epistle begins, “Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” (Rom 6.16-18) In our natural human state, we serve sin, which leads to shame, frustration, and despair, and the end of that service is death. But God, in His great love and compassion, has delivered us from that bondage into the perfect freedom of His service. Our Lord defines Himself as the one who came, “not to be served, but to serve,” and we who seek to follow Him must also be defined by service. We have been saved in order to serve. We serve Him, because He first served us. And we serve Him because He saved us. We do not serve Him in order to achieve salvation. Our service does not save us, but is a response to God’s gift of salvation. And so we must offer ourselves—our bodies, our souls, our minds, our wills, and everything we have. When the disciples offered what they had, inadequate though it was, the Lord took what was offered, and blessed it, and it became more than enough.
The compassion of Christ provides so much more for us than we desire or deserve. When we surrender all to God in His service, He will multiply His blessings upon us, and the miracle will continue. We cannot earn God’s favour, or buy our own redemption. It is a gift—the free and abundant gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. But the point is ultimately about the Word of Life whereby live. “The free gift of God,” St. Paul says, “is eternal life,” all because of the compassion of Christ, who is “the Lord of all power and might,” and “the author and giver of all good things.” He cares for us and for our good. He provides for our wellbeing, “nourish[ing] us with all goodness and of [His] great mercy keep[ing] us in the same.”
“For I will satiate the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”
Collect: Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, who knowest our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking: We beseech thee to have compassion upon our infirmities; and those things, which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask, vouchsafe to give us for the worthiness of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.