I once had a professor tell me that she didn’t write or highlight in her Bible because she felt that when she returned to the scripture, each time it was as if she were a new person. She didn’t want to be told by her former selves what she should be hearing from the passages. This morning gave me one of those experiences. I’ve read, heard and probably even taught on the feeding of the five thousand several times. But if you return to it anew, it will speak anew.
Jesus had just sent out his disciples on his behalf to heal and teach on his behalf. In Mark 6:30, we see them all return, reporting in on their events. But because the crowds wouldn’t leave Jesus alone, he suggested they all get away for some quiet R&R.
The crowds, however, thought otherwise. They actually beat them to their destination, and Jesus – being the nice guy he is – had compassion on them so he had them sit down for some teaching. As it got later and later, the disciples tell him, “you know, we ought to send these folks out for dinner.”
Here’s what never caught me before: in verse 31 – the very beginning of the story – it mentions that the crowds had made it so that the disciples “did not even have a chance to eat.” So when it starts to get late, we have to ask, who is really hungry here? In verse 34 Jesus had compassion on the people, not because they were hungry, but because they were like sheep without a shepherd. We don’t hear a word of concern about food from the the mass of followers.
So when the disciples mention to Jesus, “go tell them to get dinner”, he tells them, “you give them something to eat” and proceeds to miraculously feed 5,000 men (plus women and children) with 5 loaves and 2 fish.
I have to ask who this miracle was really for: the disciples, who just want to eat and keep Jesus to themselves so they can talk about all the wonderful things they did on his behalf? Or the crowd of people who followed and made no mention of being hungry, who just wanted to hear what Jesus had to say?
Jesus recognizes the power of mission and He was the force behind sending out his disciples; but he seems to have a very important message for his leading men when they return: the Kingdom of God is Near. It’s not “out there” but wherever you are seeking it. It’s right in front of you, though all you hear is the growl of your bellies.
How easy it is to sit in the seat of the disciples. Often I wonder if they teach me more about my nature than Jesus does. They want so awfully bad to be like Jesus, to do and live as he says, but they miss the forest for the trees. And when they do something right and simply want to celebrate, they miss the point of the life of a servant: the people in front of their very faces at this moment.
Stay tuned: next, these guys get in a boat. And that always leads to a teachable moment.