I hope you’re having a good week! Today, I’d like to talk about the Feeding of the 5,000 from the Gospel of Mark. I saw this passage with fresh eyes this week, and my prayer is that you will, too.
First, let’s take a look at the passage from Mark 6 (underline added):
30The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
Before we dig in, I’d like to make a couple of observations.
- The disciples were in communion with Jesus. “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.“
- The disciples were hungry. “So many people were coming and going that [the apostles] did not even have a chance to eat.“ Have you ever noticed this detail?! Right before the feeding of the 5,000, the disciples had been so busy teaching and doing good works for Jesus that they, themselves, were hungry.
- In their hunger, Jesus invited the apostles to find rest in him. [Jesus] said to [the apostles], “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
- The disciples observed a very real need. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late.” The crowds were hungry, but they were in the middle of nowhere and there was no food!
- Their proposed solution to the identified need? To buy “Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
- Despite the fact that they had intentionally tried to withdraw to a lonely place to rest and recharge, Jesus gave them a seemingly impossible directive. “You give them something to eat.” Notice, Jesus didn’t actually ask them to buy or spend anything — he asked them to give.
- The disciples response to the directive? They couldn’t afford it. [The disciples] said to [Jesus], “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” The disciples were still convinced that the solution to the need was to spend money.
- Jesus gives them another directive: to take an inventory of their resources. “How many loaves do you have?” [Jesus] asked. “Go and see.”
- After they took an inventory, Jesus gave thanks for the resources they already had. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks.
- Without buying anything, there was enough. They all ate and were satisfied.
Before this week, I never noticed that right before the miraculous feeding, the disciples were hungry and trying to rest and recharge. It is striking that Jesus gave the disciples two seemingly contradictory directives: to find rest and to feed 5,000 people. How can those directives be compatible? Feeding a crowd of 5,000 can hardly be considered “restful,” even if you have a full belly and ample resources to accomplish it. But the disciples had neither a full belly nor ample resources. They did, however, have communion and fellowship with Jesus. In that communion, in their need, Jesus invited them to find rest and to accomplish impossible task: to meet the needs of others through seemingly inadequate resources.
When we walk with God, sometimes things can get uncomfortable. When we say, “Not my will, but yours, Lord,” God sometimes us asks us to do things that we wouldn’t do otherwise. Things that are out of our comfort zone. Sometimes, as with the disciples, he asks us to do the impossible. But he simultaneously invites us to find rest in him. How can these two things be reconciled? In my own life, I’m inclined to object, But if I rest in You, God, how can I accomplish the impossible? To achieve what You’ve set before me, don’t I need to work really hard? I’ll need to spend lot of time researching, and with a lot of sweat, blood, and tears, I just might be able to pull it off. Sweat, blood and tears are the opposite of rest, God. It doesn’t make any sense. How can I both rest in you and accomplish this task?
To be clear, hard work could be very well be involved. The Bible doesn’t actually tell us how long it took the disciples to take their inventory, or what the weather conditions were. It could have been very long, hot, and sweaty work. But perhaps the point is that only when we are in relationship with and at rest in God will we have the resources to pull off an impossible directive from Him. Because that directive isn’t possible in our own strength. We can’t pull it off by ourselves. Like the disciples, we are hungry, tired, and certainly can’t afford it (whatever the “it” might be in your own life).
Sometimes God calls us to things. Big things — things that seem impossible. Sometimes, God calls us to “small” things — things that seem equally impossible, like getting the grocery bill in budget. Regardless of the circumstances, when I perceive that my resources are insufficient, my natural default mode is to buy something to fill the gap.
But… do I always need to buy something to fill that gap?
Of course, sometimes we do legitimately need to buy things. We all need groceries, after all. But… what if — before we default to buying something to solve a problem — what would happen if we chose to model our response after Mark 6? What if we chose to first…
- Take an inventory of our available resources
- Give thanks to God for those resources
- Use those resources (small as they are) to the best of our ability
Would we find that we actually have enough after all?
Would we perhaps see a miracle? Perhaps we would. I believe that a true miracle happened that day, and I believe that literal, physical, actual miracles still happen today.
Perhaps we wouldn’t see a physical miracle, but we would find a miracle within own hearts, which would be no less miraculous; it is a miracle in and of itself that a sinner’s heart would be softened to realize that it doesn’t need to buy any one “thing” to fill its void.
Perhaps we would find that despite our need, we already have everything that is required to complete the God-given task before us.
Either way, if we are walking with God, I believe we will eat and be satisfied.