15th February. Saturday, Week Five
1st Reading: 1 Kings 12:26-32; 13:33-34
(Jeroboam rebels in the north, and appoints his own sanctuaries, priests and feast-days.)
Then Jeroboam said to himself, “Now the kingdom may well revert to the house of David. If this people continues to go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, the heart of this people will turn again to their master, King Rehoboam of Judah; they will kill me and return to King Rehoboam of Judah.” So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. He said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. And this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one at Bethel and before the other as far as Dan. He also made houses on high places, and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not Levites.
Jeroboam appointed a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the festival that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar; so he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made.
Even after this event Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way, but made priests for the high places again from among all the people; any who wanted to be priests he consecrated for the high places. This matter became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth.
Gospel: Mark 8:1-10
(Jesus, out of compassion for hungry people, multiplies bread and fish for about four thousand people.)
In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way – and some of them have come from a great distance.” His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.
A kingdom divided
To further his revolt Jeroboam misuses his people’s religious tradition. He uses the priesthood, sanctuaries and festivals, to control the riches of Israel’s northern kingdom and to prevent a peaceful reunion with the south. Envy and stubbornness kept north and south, who shared the same basic faith, at loggerheads. But the break of the northern tribes from the Davidic line in Jerusalem was not an unmixed evil. In their subsequent history there was often a healthy cross-fertilisation between the two kingdoms, just as one might think has happened between Catholicism and Protestantism in later church history. Prophets on either side have inspired the other side.
The orientation towards life or death is not primarily “out there” but within ourselves, in how we react to God and to share with others as God prompts us, not for personal ambition. It is amazing how quickly and simply today’s gospel text ends. After the magnificent miracle of feeding about four thousand people from seven loaves and a few small fish, the story abruptly ends. Jesus dismissed the crowd and got into the boat with his disciples to go to the region of Dalmanutha. Acting out of compassion, not ambition, Jesus did not make a living from his miracles. The happiness of seeing others restored to life and strength was its own joy.