Daily Reflection
February 12th, 2000
Tom Krettek, S.J.
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1 Kings 12:26-32; 13:33-34
Psalms 106:6-7, 19-22
Mark 8:1-10

“They did not feel the question.”  So observes Bryan Magee regarding the failure of his attempts to get his friends and acquaintances to be as puzzled as he was about the wonderful incomprehensibility of human experience.  Magee’s observation came back to me as I read the account in 1 Kings about idolatry being the theological-historical cause of the fall of the northern kingdom.  I found it difficult to feel the question.  It seems to me that at least part of what prevents me from doing so is related to today’s gospel reading.

There are two accounts in Mark’s gospel about Jesus feeding several thousand people.  The other, besides today’s, is at Mark 6:31-44.  Today’s is the second account.  As is often the case, scripture scholars offer different reasons to explain why there are two.  I was particularly struck by this account because of something I once read by Carlo Martini about the account in Mark 6.  He points to the fact that in the earlier account Jesus has the crowd order themselves in rows and groups during the feeding.  This suggests that Jesus establishes a Eucharistic community that possesses a certain harmonious ordering, which in turn suggests that the Church itself is to be an ordered community centered on the Eucharist.

What struck me about today’s account is that there is no such ordering.  The crowd doesn’t become a community in the sense suggested in the earlier account.  The crowd remains a crowd.  Another incident that I take to be like this is when the disciples come to Jesus and tell him that they found someone who was not of their company casting out demons in his name and they told the person to stop.  Jesus tells them not to stop such people.

What does all this have to do with my not feeling the issue of idolatry?  As far as I can make it out, it is this.  There is a lot of grey in the world and in the Church, which makes it less easy to clearly identify what idolatry is these days.  The Church herself seems to me to affirm as much.  The Second Vatican Council presented two Constitutions on the Church, one Dogmatic and one Pastoral.  In one she reflects on the Church as an ordered Eucharistic Community.  In the other, she embraces the crowds, “The joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the men of our time....”  The Church, like Jesus, was moved with pity for the crowd and commits herself to nourishing and strengthening them for their journey.  The Church challenges herself and her members to embrace both the unity of the Christian community and also interreligious dialogue so that all the Eucharistic fragments will be gathered together and saved.  

It seems to me that the Spirit-filled insight of the Second Vatican Council’s two Constitutions on the Church captures the reason why there are two feeding stories in Mark.  The Eucharist is not only for the nourishment and salvation of her members, but also for the crowds and whomever is to be found there.

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