"Cast your bread upon the waters"

This past week we have been reading the closing chapters of the Book of Ecclesiastes and the end of St John’s Gospel at Morning Prayer each day.  In a way they neatly balance one another: Ecclesiastes underlining the uncertainty of life; John assuring us of Christ’s victory over the certainty of death.

It was last Friday morning that we encountered one of the best-known lines in Ecclesiastes, at the beginning of chapter 11, “Cast your bread upon the waters.”.  This is a line that has been taken in two different ways:  firstly, to spread your kindness and generosity about you - be good to all; secondly, and best put with another saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”.

I confess that I have always thought of it in the first interpretation, but I suppose that that may not have been the author’s intention.  With a feeling of the uncertainty of life running through these verses from Ecclesiastes, there is logic in the writer wanting to spread his interests and resources, in case some fail - in fact, with the expectation that some will fail.

In these days when commercial interests are part of the whole spectrum of problems related to the pandemic, this saying, “Cast your bread upon the waters”, may be peculiarly apt.  Through uncertainty, how do we seek security?  The person who has followed the Ecclesiastes reading with that of the meeting of Jesus with Mary Magdalene at the tomb on Easter morning may have a very quick response, but, having received that reassurance, may then want to go back to Ecclesiastes 11 verse 1 and read again the words, “Cast your bread upon the waters”, and ponder further on its meaning.

John Mann