Jesus Feeds Five Thousand
30 The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. 31 Then Jesus said, "Let's go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile." He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn't even have time to eat.
32 So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone. 33 But many people recognized them and saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and got there ahead of them. 34 Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
35 Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. 36 Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat."
37 But Jesus said, "You feed them."
"With what?" they asked. "We'd have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!" [NASB: And they said to Him, "Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?"]
38 "How much bread do you have?" he asked. "Go and find out."
They came back and reported, "We have five loaves of bread and two fish."
39 Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred.
41 Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. 42 They all ate as much as they wanted, 43 and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. 44 A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed from those loaves!
The disciples' ministry tour was a rousing success, and people continue flocking to Jesus by the thousands. Seeking a much deserved rest, Jesus and his disciples instead find themselves once again surrounded by people in need. Rather than withdraw from them, however, Jesus has compassion on them by first of all mercifully feeding their souls and then by miraculously filling their stomachs.
Like sheep (Mark 6:34)
The crowd was "like sheep without a shepherd" - that is, they were "lost and helpless, without guidance, nourishment, or protection."465 Jesus "had compassion on them" (Mark 6:34) - he personally identified with their plight and determined to do something about it. As one source puts it: "With [Jesus] sympathy is not just a feeling. It is a tender feeling transformed into helpful action."466 As recorded in Matthew and Luke, Jesus also healed the sick among the crowd, and of course such miraculous physical healing was a normal part of Jesus' ministry. While there are several OT parallels to the idea of shepherding, three in particular are of special note:467
At the commissioning of Joshua, Moses asked God to "'appoint a man over the congregation, who will go out and come in before them, and who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the LORD will not be like sheep which have no shepherd'" (Numbers 27:16-17). (Leading/going out and leading/coming is military imagery.468)
When David was made king over Israel, "all the tribes of Israel" affirmed his calling: "Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, 'Behold, we are your bone and your flesh. Previously, when Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel out and in. And the LORD said to you, "You will shepherd My people Israel, and you will be a ruler over Israel."' So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them before the LORD at Hebron; then they anointed David king over Israel" (2 Samuel 5:1-3).
And in the same section of Scripture cited by John the Baptist ("Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness ... "), the prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of the LORD to his people: "Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes" (Isaiah 40:11). (all NASB)
Jesus "is the rejected lowly shepherd, compassionate though powerful in spirit and mighty in action, through whom God will expose wicked shepherds and faithfully shepherd his flock in their pasture. ... Not only are the shepherding hopes of a new Moses, a new Joshua, a new David, and perhaps the Isaianic servant fulfilled in Jesus, but also again, in some mysterious way, Yahweh himself has uniquely come among his people." 469
Something to eat (Mark 6:36)
Like a shepherd caring for his flock, Jesus provided food for those who had followed him.470 Jesus' miraculous feeding is reminiscent of a similar miracle performed by the prophet Elisha, although that miracle was on a far smaller scale (see 2 Kings 4:42-44).471 But while Jesus was indeed concerned with the people's physical hunger, he wished to teach them a vital truth they would never forget. Along these lines, there may well be something to the fact that the "groups" (v. 39, Greek symposion) into which the people were told to form themselves is the source for our word "symposium."472 And an "orderly arrangement"473 - literally "like beds in a garden"474 - is the idea behind the "groups" (v. 40, Greek prasia) into which the people seated themselves. As one source notes: "The whole multitude was arranged like a great garden with its beds all beautifully regular. Incidentally, this arrangement made it easy to count the entire multitude."475
Jesus involved his disciples in this faith-stretching miracle, using them as vehicles for demonstrating grace and mercy to people in need. At first the disciples "stop at the impossibilities and do not see that these impossibilities are to make them think of Jesus and the things that are possible to him."476 As directed by Jesus, they checked to see how much food was on hand - possibly in hopes of convincing Jesus of the hopelessness of their situation.477 In the end, however, the disciples who are so preoccupied with the practical are treated to some very practical lessons regarding effective ministry, namely that it involves: taking responsibility for a situation; persisting in finding a solution; and being willing to be used of God.478 Effective ministry also involves following Jesus' example in using our God-given abilities to help rather than to harm. Along these lines, we should take note of the fact that "Jesus never employed his miracle-working power to destroy or even to hurt the people but always to help them. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, had compassion on and taught the misled, and sought the lost."479
When Jesus blessed (Greek eulogeo) the food, he was literally offering a "eulogy" or "high praise."480 "The object of the blessing in such a prayer was not the food, but God who gave it."481 This miracle shows that God is concerned with seemingly mundane things such as physical hunger, and it highlights the arena in which God works best: normal, everyday life (John tells us that the bread and fish was from a "lad with his lunch which his mother had given him."482). The tremendous miracle is followed not by everyone crossing their legs and meditating their way into nirvana, but rather by the disciples bending over to collect the leftovers, quite "possibly for the next day's meal."483 What's more, the fact that there were exactly twelve baskets of leftovers would mean that Jesus would have to depend on his disciples to share their food with him.484
This miracle is very important in Mark's gospel. Coming as it does immediately after Herod's feast, it draws a sharp contrast between the priorities of the world and those of God's kingdom. Jesus meets the people's physical needs, but he does so using "the staples of a peasant's diet."485 This miracle event will be referred to twice (Mark 6:52; 8:17-21), and is followed by a similar miracle in which four thousand men are fed (Mark 8).486
A Statue and a Monument
In the city of Paris is located statutes of two men named Louis.
One is Louis XIV, king of France and absolute monarch remembered for his power-hungry, egotistical efforts to make everyone submit to his will.
The other is Louis Pasteur, the Christian chemist and microbiologist remembered for his tireless research, the end results of which was the alleviation of disease and suffering for countless people around the globe.
"The statue of the monarch is nothing more than a piece of sculpture; the statue of Pasteur is a shrine where pilgrims from all over the world pay grateful homage. It is the uncrowned servant of mankind who wears the real crown of men's love and honor."487
While God may not be calling you to become a famous chemist and microbiologist, God has prepared each of us for, and expects each of us to do, good works in the name of Jesus Christ. Why? Because God still meets people's physical needs today, and he uses his children to do so. Our acts of service is the starting point for showing his love and mercy to a world in dire need of it. And we can rest assured that no good deed done in the name of Jesus, no matter how small, will ever be in vain.
??? What gifts or abilities has God given you? What can this passage teach us about God's desire to use our gifts and abilities to help others in everyday situations?