I spent a while brooding over the 6th chapter of Mark this afternoon, and this is one of the notes I jotted down, regarding the feeding of the 5,000.
They gave their food to J, he blessed and broke it, he returned it to them (still apparently unchanged), and they gave it to the crowd. The fragments returned were more than they originally had. Breaking and distributing is what multiplied it — the whole was less than the sum of its parts.
Later tonight I was reading Valentin Tomberg’s letter on the Hanged Man in Meditations on the Tarot, and I found this.
“It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish” (John xi, 50) — this was Caiaphas’ argument. This argument is based on the logical principle that the part is less than the whole, the part being “one man” and the whole being “the nation”. Being faced with the alternative—”If we let him go, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come to destroy our city and nation”—the decision was taken to sacrifice the part for the whole.
For moral logic, however, the quantitative principle that the part is less than the whole is not valid in a general sense; there are distinctions to be made. For already in a living organism where it is not the size but rather the importance of the vital function which counts, the principle in question would be: “the part is equal to the whole”. Because, for example, the heart, which is only a small part of the whole human organism, cannot be sacrificed without sacrificing the life of the whole organism.
And in the moral and spiritual domain, where it is only quality which counts, one righteous man is worth more than the whole nation, if it is a question not of voluntary sacrifice but rather of the one who must be sacrificed. Thus in the spiritual and moral domain the above logical principle can be transformed into its opposite formula: “the part is greater than the whole“.
Two quite different points, of course, but both make a counterintuitive statement about the relationship between whole and part, and both do so in the context of a commentary on a Gospel passage.
As an ancillary coincidence, Tomberg’s letter on the Hanged Man also includes an extensive discussion of Jesus’ walking on water, an incident which is also related in Mark 6, just after the feeding of the 5,000.