In 1789, when being told that her French subjects had to bread to eat, Marie-Antoinette, the wife of King Louis XVI, famously is to have said “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” or “Let them eat cake.”
While it is disputed by some historians today if Marie-Antoinette actually said this, the response has become a symbol of callous disregard of those in power for the good of their people. I am sure in our current political climate we could identify other phrases that convey the same meaning.
The type of disregard felt in the expression “Let them eat cake” when someone is starving, is matched by the disregard of the people’s well being which we see on display by King Jeroboam in today’s first reading.
In the language of today’s political sphere, Jeroboam was a divider, not a uniter, though he wasn’t the only one. He was the first king anointed by the ten tribes of Israel which had split from the two southern tribes, causing a division of the kingdom of Israel into two rival kingdoms following the death of Solomon. His rival in the south, Rehoboam, caused the division as much by his imposition of oppressive laws.
When people developed a faith-filled fervor to reunite in worship at the temple in Jerusalem – now the capital of the rival southern kingdom – Jeroboam decided that he had to intervene by creating two golden calves – idols – for the people to worship. He wanted to maintain control and replace the worship of the true God with his own idols – not the first or the last time a leader set himself up in place of the true living God!
In response to the people’s deep spiritual hunger for unity with their brothers and sisters in the southern kingdom and an even deeper desire for spiritual union in worship of God, Jeroboam’s response was “let them eat cake!”
What a contrast the Gospel of Mark gives us with Jesus, presenting him as the true King of all Israel, the promised Messiah of God. Jesus sees the deep hunger of the people and responds, not by telling the people how great he is, not by words or actions designed to divide, but to respond to their deepest needs – food for their bodies – bread, not cake! – and a reminder of the way God blesses the little we have and makes it more than enough. Jesus reminds us by his life that such humility and care for those in need is the mark of genuine leadership.
Let us pray that we be given the eyes to see and to live this vision of care each and every day as we respond to the deep needs of those around us.
God give you peace!